Unmasking the Modern Epidemic: Navigating and Conquering Stress.
“Being an adult is stressful. I’ve got all these responsibilities, obligations, and commitments that I feel overwhelmed by. I’ve got bills to pay, mouths to feed, and people to deal with. I feel like I want to quit my job, leave everything behind, move to the mountains and live in peace. My life is so chaotic right now. I can’t even deal with anything anymore. Sometimes I just want to scream at the top of my lungs and cry.”
– A person describing what stress feels like.
We all go through difficult situations in our lives. Failures, challenging situations, and pressure. It’s how our world operates. And usually, we label the negative feelings we experience from these hard situations as stress.
Anything negative that happens to us and makes us feel bad or is too hard, we consider a stressor. And we’re right. Because in science, stress is an external pressure put on an object. In this scenario, the object is us and our lives.
What is Stress?
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, Stress is the physical or mental response to an external cause. Medically speaking, stress is the feeling we get when faced with challenging situations (stressors). It’s usually a combination of worry, tension, and some fear. You can also think of it as another form of anxiety.
But actually, stress is not always bad. As I mentioned earlier, stress is an external pressure put on us – deadlines at work, bills to pay, family problems, or toxic work cultures. It’s our response that makes it a negative experience and stressful.
But for the purpose of this article, we’ll stick to the common perception of stress – our response to negative situations we face in life.
Why do we get stressed?
Like anxiety, stress is one of our body’s important survival mechanisms inherited from our ancestors. This feeling helped them survive situations by going into “fight or flight mode” when faced wirth danger. And now, we also have the same response thanks to our reptilian brain (the part of our brain in charge of our survival).
So why do we get stressed even when we’re not facing life-or-death situations?
That’s because even though we’re not faced with life-threatening events most of the time, our brain still sees uncertainty and challenges as such. That’s why our first instinct when faced with hardship is to feel stressed.
Another reason we tend to get stressed even with non-existence threatening events is because of how we perceive these situations. If you have automatic negative thoughts (ANTs) as your default mind frame, then every pressure-filled situation will feel stressful for you. But if you view life through a more positive lens, then you might find these situations as an opportunity to grow.
What are the different kinds of stress?
According to the Australian Psychological Society (APS) there are two kinds of stress that affect people. Acute stress and chronic stress. And these are determined based on length and intensity of the feelings of stress.
As cute as it sounds, acute stress is not something to laugh about. Acute stress is defined as stress experienced in a short period of time. This is something all of us normally experience.
An example of acute stress is the tension you feel moments before a big presentation in front of your company’s executives. Or the worry you feel when your partner tells you “we need to talk later.” Another good example is the frustration you experience while driving in the middle of traffic when you’re 10 minutes late to a meeting.
However, these feelings are easily overcome and don’t do much damage.. Your body doesn’t stay in “fight or flight mode” for long, especially when things turn out for the better – like nailing the presentation or getting good news.
In some instances, acute stress can be a positive experience. That’s because our bodies learn that these situations aren’t harmful and something to be stressed about. So the next time we’re up for a big presentation, we’ll feel a little calmer than before. And with more repetitions, the acute stress from these events may not go away entirely, but will reduce.
But in some instances where the outcome is unfavorable, or traumatic, it can create a negative outcome causing a response of anxiety in relation to the situation.
Unlike acute stress which comes and goes quickly, chronic stress can go on for long periods of time, and it may not go away easily. Which can cause a negative impact on our lives if not managed properly.
An example of chronic stress is when you’re the breadwinner of your family, you get laid off, and you’re having a difficult time finding a new job. The whole period of your unemployment becomes a source of chronic stress because of everything that’s happening – lack of income, ongoing bills and obligations, your family’s basic needs, mounting debt, and the job search.
Another source of chronic stress are extremely challenging living situations like a toxic work culture, taking care of a sick relative, constant bullying in school, or living in a violent neighborhood.
But chronic stress is not just being in a poor situation for a long period of time. It can also be triggered by a chain of negative events that just pile on, not giving you enough time to rest and recover.
Unlike acute stress which is less harmful to the body, chronic stress can create a plethora of health problems.
What does stress do to the body?
Stress can have negative impacts on our bodies. And it’s not just mental impact but physical as well.
Here are some of the things that happen to your body when you’re constantly stressed.
- Your sleeping patterns may change developing insomnia or oversleeping.
- You can experience digestive issues.
- Your risk for heart problems might increase.
- Your weight might change. Sudden weight loss or gain.
- Your immune system can drop making you more prone to getting sick.
- Your thinking can become slower.
- You might have a hard time remembering things.
- You might find it hard to concentrate on daily tasks.
- Your mood might go down and trigger anxiety or depression.
- You might be more irritable and easily angered.
- You might start withdrawing from people.
- You might have angry outbursts on the people around you.
- You might find it harder to handle your obligations and responsibilities.
- You could have trouble communicating clearly with the people around you.
- You might develop negative (and harmful habits).
How can I manage my stress?
There are a lot of available tools to help you manage stress better. You can include healthy habits like exercising, eating well, and a consistent sleep routine into your daily regimen. There are also activities like yoga, mindful meditation, and journaling that can help you manage your negative energy. For some, breathing techniques, mantras, or stress objects help them channel their emotions.
But one of the best ways to overcome stress is by changing how we perceive things. Being able to see stressful situations in a more positive light by reframing them can help you manage them, especially for acute stressors.
However, if you’re experiencing chronic stress or just underwent a traumatic event, it’s best to work with a psychologist to help you process your emotions. A psychologist can help you navigate unhelpful thought patterns and behaviours and create a plan to regain control of your life.
Stress is a natural occurring emotion. Whatever we do, we’ll experience stress in our lives. The best we can do is to learn healthy techniques to manage it better, so it doesn’t negatively influence our daily lives.
If you’re expressing symptoms of stress, or you know someone who is, you can reach out to MeHelp Psychology for assistance.
If you require immediate assistance, Lifeline provides 24-hour crisis support telephone service and suicide prevention services.