What is stress
Stress is a feeling of being under an immense amount of pressure, where demands exceed available personal and social resources. This pressure can be a consequence of day to day activities such as increased workload, an argument that causes upset or an upcoming deadline. This type of stress is known as acute stress and typically the stress reduces once the issue is resolved. People who frequently experience triggers of acute stress due to too many commitments, worrying too much or poor organisation can find themselves displaying episodic stress symptoms such as irritability. The most harmful type of stress is chronic stress which manifests over a long period and a person finds it difficult to see an escape from the cause of stress. Chronic stress can have huge implications on physical health such as low immunity levels, digestive and intestinal difficulties or mental health such as depression. Therefore, early detection and management is essential in the prevention of long term damage to body and mind.
Causes of stress
People react to stressful situations differently, what is stressful for one person may not be stressful for another. All sorts of situations can cause stress, the most common being work, money matters and family relationship.
Common major life events that can trigger stress include:
- Difficulties at work
- Family issues
- Moving home
Other more commonly reported causes of stress are:
- Arguments with family members
- Feeling undervalued at work
- Work pressure
- Driving in heavy traffic
These stressors can deplete our resources and make us more prone to the negative symptoms associated with stress. Mental health issues such as depression and anxiety can also result in people feeling stressed more easily. Sometimes, however, there is no identifiable cause.
Everyone experiences stress and while stress affects everyone differently there are common signs and symptoms to look out for:
- Feeling of constant worry or anxiety
- Feelings of being overwhelmed
- Difficulty concentrating
- Lack of motivation
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Low mood
- Irritability or anger
- Difficulty relaxing
- Low self esteem
- Eating more or less than usual
- Changes in sleep
- Excessive use of alcohol, tobacco, drugs to cope
- Social withdrawal
- Aches and pains, particularly muscle tension
- Feelings of nausea or dizziness
- Loss of sex drive
There are numerus steps that you can take to manage your stress independently such as:
- Regular physical activity
- Reducing intake of alcohol, drugs and caffeine
- Establishing support networks
- Eating healthily
- Taking time out to relax
- Being mindful
- Getting restful sleep
Apart from implementing the above self-help strategies, research indicates that the very act of perceiving a demand as something we can handle and even grow from reduces the intensity of the stress response and actually supports wellbeing in the long term.
Thinking about identifying underlying causes of stress and current pressures in life may be an initial way of making changes to manage stress.
It is when these symptoms begin to affect your everyday functioning and are present for a prolonged period of time then a psychological intervention could be put into place. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Mindfulness based approaches are evidence based approaches in reducing stress.