When we are stressed the following happens:
- Blood pressure rises
- Breathing becomes more rapid
- Digestive system slows down
- Heart rate (pulse) rises
- Immune system goes down
- Muscles become tense
- We do not sleep (heightened state of alertness)
We are continually sizing up situations that confront us in life. We assess each situation, deciding whether something is a threat, how we can deal with it and what resources we can use. If we conclude that the required resources needed to effectively deal with a situation are beyond what we have available, we say that that situation is stressful - and we react with a classical stress response. On the other hand, if we decide our available resources and skills are more than enough to deal with a situation, it is not seen as stressful to us.
We all respond differently to a given situation for three main reasons
- 1. We do not all interpret each situation in the same way.
2. Because of this, we do not all call on the same resources for each situation
3. We do not all have the same resources and skills.
It is important to learn that what matters more than the event itself is usually our thoughts about the event when we are trying to manage stress. How you see that stressful event will be the largest single factor that impacts on your physical and mental health. Your interpretation of events and challenges in life may decide whether they are invigorating or harmful for you.
A persistently negative response to challenges will eventually have a negative effect on your health and happiness. Experts say people who tend to perceive things negatively need to understand themselves and their reactions to stress-provoking situations better. Then they can learn to manage stress more successfully.
Some of the effects of stress on your body, your thoughts and feelings, and on your behavior:Effect on your body
- A tendency to sweat
- Back pain
- Chest pain
- Childhood obesity - researchers at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia published a report in Pediatrics in October 2012 explaining that a number of stressors from parents can increase the risk of obesity in their children. Lead researcher, Elizabeth Prout-Parks, M.D., said "Stress in parents may be an important risk factor for child obesity and related behaviors. The severity and number of stressors are important."
Examples of stressors include mental health problems, poor physical health, financial strain, and trying to manage in a single-parent household.
- Cramps or muscle spasms
- Erectile dysfunction
- Fainting spells
- Heart disease
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Loss of libido
- Lower immunity against diseases
- Muscular aches
- Nail biting
- Nervous twitches
- Pins and needles
- Sleeping difficulties
- Stomach upset
- Feeling of insecurity
- Problem concentrating
- Eating too much
- Eating too little
- Food cravings
- Sudden angry outbursts
- Drug abuse
- Alcohol abuse
- Higher tobacco consumption
- Social withdrawal
- Frequent crying
- Relationship problems
What are the causes of stress?We all react differently to stressful situations. What one person finds stressful another may not at all. Almost anything can cause stress and it has different triggers. For some people, on some occasions, just thinking about something, or several small things that accumulate, can cause stress.
The most common causes of stress are:
- Family problems
- Financial matters
- Job issues
- Lack of time
- Moving home
- Relationships (including divorce)
- Becoming a mother or a father
- Conflicts in the workplace
- Driving in bad traffic
- Fear of crime
- Losing your job
- Noisy neighbors
- Too much noise
- Uncertainty (awaiting laboratory test results, academic exam results, job interview results, etc)
Maternal stress and bullying later on at school
If a mother experiences severe mental stress during her pregnancy, there is a greater risk that her child will be bullied at school later on, researchers from the University of Warwick, England, reported in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.
The researchers had gathered and examined data on 14,000 moms and 8,829 children. They evaluated mothers' post-natal period, family adversity, anxiety and depression during pregnancy, as well as bullying incidences among their children aged from 7 to 10 years.
They found that mental stress during pregnancy impacted on the child's chances of being bullied later on.
Lead researcher, Professor Dieter Wolke, said "Changes in the stress response system can affect behavior and how children react emotionally to stress such as being picked on by a bully. Children who more easily show a stress reaction such as crying, running away, anxiety are then selected by bullies to home in to. The whole thing becomes a vicious cycle, a child with an altered stress response system is more likely to be bullied, which affects their stress response even further and increases the likelihood of them developing mental health problems in later life."
Diagnosis of stressA good primary care physician (GP - General Practitioner) should be able to diagnose stress based on the patient's symptoms alone. Some doctors may wish to run some tests, such as a blood or urine, or a health assessment.
The diagnosis of stress depends on many factors and is complex, say experts. A wide range of approaches to stress diagnosis have been used by health care professionals, such as the use of questionnaires, biochemical measures, and physiological techniques. Experts add that the majority of these methods are subject to experimental error and should be viewed with caution. The most practicable way to diagnose stress and its effects on a person is through a comprehensive, stress-oriented, face-to-face interview.
How to deal with stressThere are three broad methods you can follow to treat stress, they include self-help, self management, and medication.
Self help for treating stress
- Exercise - exercise has been proven to have a beneficial effect on a person's mental and physical state. For many people exercise is an extremely effective stress buster.
Division of labor - try to delegate your responsibilities at work, or share them. If you make yourself indispensable the likelihood of your feeling highly stressed is significantly greater.
Assertiveness - don't say yes to everything. If you can't do something well, or if something is not your responsibility, try to seek ways of not agreeing to do them.
Alcohol and drugs - alcohol and drugs will not help you manage your stress better. Either stop consuming them completely, or cut down.
Caffeine - if your consumption of coffee and other drinks which contain caffeine is high, cut down.
Nutrition - eat plenty of fruit and vegetables. Make sure you have a healthy and balanced diet.
Time - make sure you set aside some time each day just for yourself. Use that time to organize your life, relax, and pursue your own interests.
Breathing - there are some effective breathing techniques which will slow down your system and help you relax.
Talk - talk to you family, friends, work colleagues and your boss. Express your thoughts and worries.
Seek professional help - if the stress is affecting the way you function; go and see your doctor. Heightened stress for prolonged periods can be bad for your physical and mental health.
Relaxation techniques - mediation, massage, or yoga have been known to greatly help people with stress.
Stress management techniques
Stress management can help you to either remove or change the source of stress, alter the way you view a stressful event, lower the impact that stress might have on your body, and teach you alternative ways of coping. Stress management therapy will have the objective of pursuing one or more of these approaches.
Stress management techniques can be gained if you read self-help books, or attend a stress management course. You can also seek the help of a counselor or psychotherapist for personal development or therapy sessions.
Many therapies which help you relax, such as aromatherapy, or reflexology, may have a beneficial effect.
Doctors will not usually prescribe medications for coping with stress, unless the patient has an underlying illness, such as depression or some type of anxiety. If that is the case, the doctor is actually treating a mental illness. In such cases, an antidepressant may be prescribed. Bear in mind that there is a risk that all the medication will do is mask the stress, rather than help you deal and cope with it.