Stress is a constant presence in everyday life. At moderate levels, stress can serve as a motivator, but it is not always so innocuous. For people with post traumatic stress, generalized anxiety disorder, and other stress-related disorders, it can be crushing. However, with the right approach, you can mitigate the negative effects of your stress response. Here are some stress facts that may help.
There is such a thing as good stress.
Despite the bad rap stress tends to get, it isn’t always a bad thing. There are two types of stress: eustress and distress. The type of stress we are most familiar with is distress, which is defined as something unpleasant, causing anxiety or concern.
The opposite of distress is eustress, which is a positive stress that helps you get things done. Most of the time, it helps you get things done, and only persists in the short term. Eustress can improve performance and motivate you into working on the task at hand.
Here’s an example of the difference between eustress and distress. Let’s say your company has been expanding and bringing in more clientele. Because of your excellent performance, your boss has given you a promotion. Instead of managing one account, you are now managing three accounts and have received a significant raise. The increase in the amount of work is a source of stress in that there is more pressure on you to perform. However, you are also being recognised for your good work and being rewarded for it. This promotion will motivate you to do the work these accounts require.
However, in the same environment, you could experience distress. One of your clients has asked for more work on a tight deadline. They’re stressed out, and demanding that you deliver right away. You don’t feel comfortable delivering that much work right away, but your boss also assures the client that you will deliver. The increase in work requires you to cancel your weekend plans, to the disappointment of your friends, who were looking forward to spending some time with you. The sudden increase in work pressure with emotions running high is likely to cause distress for everyone involved.
Chronic Stress Harms Your Physical Health.
Being distressed over a short period of time can actually help you in times of danger. However, being distressed over a long period of time can damage the human body in many ways. If you’re in a constant state of stress, it’s likely you’ll experience some repercussions. Here are some of the health complications you might encounter.
In immediate danger, a flood of cortisol and epinephrine can stimulate your immune system to help you heal wounds and avoid infections. However, if you experience this same kind of stress over a long period of time, this stimulation will weaken your immune system and make it more difficult for your body to respond to threats. When your immune system is flooded with stress hormones, you are more likely to catch whatever strains and infections are going around. High levels of stress can also lengthen recovery time if you have an injury or serious illness.
Chronic stress can wreck havoc on your digestive system in several ways. When your body receives a distress signal from your brain, your liver creates more glucose (blood sugar) to give you more energy to handle the situation at hand. However, if this continues over an extended period of time, your body likely won’t be able to keep up with the constant need for extra glucose. Excess stress also causes heartburn and acid reflux because of the increase in stomach acid. It can cause ulcers to flare up and affect how your body processes food. If you’re experiencing more stomach aches, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea, it’s likely due to the increase of stress in your daily life. These issues with glucose regulation can also contribute to a higher incidence of diabetes.
Stress can cause insomnia. Assuming you are able to sleep, however, stress can greatly reduce the quality of your sleep, and make it hard for you to focus during the day. This is because the brain chemicals that tell your body to stop producing stress hormones are the same ones responsible for deep sleep. If your brain is receiving a signal of danger, your body needs to be able to respond right away. This reaction was helpful in the days where humans needed to worry about attacks from predators. However, in a more modern setting, it only causes problems.
The heart is not equipped to handle long term stress. Elevated cortisol levels can interfere with blood flow over a long time period. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute found that chronic job stress can lead to coronary heart disease, where plaque builds up in the coronary arteries; hypertension, high blood pressure; and stroke, when blood clots prevent the brain from getting the blood it needs to function.
Stress has also been known to cause headaches, weight gain, hair loss, and acne. The term stress headache exists for a reason. Stress headaches are caused by painful muscle contractions that happen in response to a stressor. Weight gain happens because our bodies expect to need to prepare for times of famine, and because of the cravings that tend to come during tense times. Acne also happens as a response to the secretion of stress hormones in the body.
Stress kills brain cells.
Along with the physical damage prolonged exposure to stress can cause, even short periods of stress can be harmful. A single stressful situation can kill off brain cells in the hippocampus, which is the part of the brain responsible for making and storing memory. Chronic stress also impacts the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for personality, impulse control, and behavior adjustments.
To put it in perspective, Alzheimer’s patients lose a massive amount of brain cells in their hippocampus region, making it difficult for them to make new memories, and retain memory of previous events in their lives.
Some scientists have actually found a link between chronic stress and mental disorders. Because stress hormones can impact brain cells, long term sources of tension and pressure can lead to disorders like PTSD and anxiety disorders.
Mental health professionals can help you manage stress.
Since stress is a major underlying cause of many mental illnesses, therapists and other mental health professionals have to know how to address and reduce stress. Many of them go to school, for as little as six or as many as 15 years, to get the training necessary to assist in mental health treatment.
One of the most common stress reduction techniques therapists use with their patients is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT can be helpful because it requires individuals to examine the thought patterns that come from stress, and helps them find more productive coping methods during stressful situations. Therapists are also equipped to help people work through incredibly stressful life events like divorce, death, and significant changes.
In order to effectively reduce tension levels, you have to know what is causing the stress in your life. Mental health professionals have many ways to help you identify the source or cause of individual stressors. Once you’ve identified the causes, you can figure out the best way to address each stress in your life.
Therapists also help their patients learn new coping techniques that they can rely on during times of stress. These techniques include specific breathing patterns, progressive muscle relaxation (tensing and then relaxing your muscles), meditation, visualization, and mindfulness.
There are dozens of stress management techniques that can help you reduce your stress levels.
The good news is that there are many ways to manage and reduce your stress levels. After a stressful event, consider trying one or more of these activities to lower that heart beat, reduce your blood pressure, and break down some cortisol. If one technique doesn’t work well, you can move on to one that better suits your lifestyle.
Regular exercise and physical activity are some of the most effective stress reducing techniques available. Even a few minutes of activity each day helps to boost cognitive function, which counteracts the fatigue chronic stress tends to cause. It also produces endorphins in your brain, which leads to better sleep and overall happiness.
Many mental health professionals will suggest, and even help you learn, meditation as a way to deal with stress. This is because meditation helps you focus and calm your mind. There are many breathing techniques that have been helpful in reducing overall stress levels, and can help you right away.
Yoga is a great way to stave off stress. The physical movements have been shown to promote relaxation, and helps your nervous system balance itself out. Whether stress gets you too wired, or makes you feel sleepy, different yoga poses will tell your brain when it needs to change its behavior.
Laughter is indeed the best medicine when it comes to stress management. Laughing causes you to bring in more air, which in turn brings more oxygen to your organs. Laughter also releases endorphins in your brain that promote feeling good.
Getting some fresh air is a great way to cut down on the amount of stress in your life. Most people spend a lot of time inside, so going outside is a necessary change in environment.
No one quite understands why being outside reduces stress, but there are many studies that have proven the benefit. Many of the smells we encounter when being outside have been shown to increase relaxation, which directly counteracts tension.
Learning about the bad effects of stress can make you feel even more stressed. But there are some simple management methods you can institute to help you manage your stress levels and get to a healthier place over all.