Stress

Stress is your body’s way of responding to any kind of demand or threat. When you sense danger—whether it’s real or imagined—the body's defenses kick into high gear in a rapid, automatic process known as the “fight-or-flight” reaction or the "stress response."

The stress response is the body’s way of protecting you. When working properly, it helps you stay focused, energetic, and alert. In emergency situations, stress can save your life—giving you extra strength to defend yourself, for example, or spurring you to slam on the brakes to avoid an accident.

Stress can also help you rise to meet challenges. It’s what keeps you on your toes during a presentation at work, sharpens your concentration when you’re attempting the game-winning free throw, or drives you to study for an exam when you'd rather be watching TV. But beyond a certain point, stress stops being helpful and starts causing major damage to your health, your mood, your productivity, your relationships, and your quality of life.

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The situations and pressures that cause stress are known as stressors. We usually think of stressors as being negative, such as an exhausting work schedule or a rocky relationship. However, anything that puts high demands on you can be stressful. This includes positive events such as getting married, buying a house, going to college, or receiving a promotion.

Of course, not all stress is caused by external factors. Stress can also be internal or self-generated, when you worry excessively about something that may or may not happen, or have irrational, pessimistic thoughts about life.

Finally, what causes stress depends, at least in part, on your perception of it. Something that's stressful to you may not faze someone else; they may even enjoy it. While some of us are terrified of getting up in front of people to perform or speak, for example, others live for the spotlight. Where one person thrives under pressure and performs best in the face of a tight deadline, another will shut down when work demands escalate. And while you may enjoy helping care for your elderly parents, your siblings may find the demands of care taking overwhelming stressful.

Common external causes of stress include:

  • Major life changes
  • Work or school
  • Relationship difficulties
  • Financial problems
  • Being too busy
  • Children and family

Common internal causes of stress include:

  • Pessimism
  • Inability to accept uncertainty
  • Rigid thinking, lack of flexibility
  • Negative self-talk
  • Unrealistic expectations / perfectionism
  • All-or-nothing attitude

Ongoing, chronic stress, however, can cause or exacerbate many serious health problems, including: Mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety, and personality disorders. Cardiovascular disease, including heart disease, high blood pressure, abnormal heart rhythms, heart attacks, and stroke.

Stress usually first affects the emotions and causes psychological symptoms. Initial symptoms may include the following feelings:

  • Anxiousness
  • Nervousness
  • Distraction
  • Excessive worry
  • Internal pressure
  • Changes in sleep patterns

These emotional states can then begin to affect a person's outward appearance; the affected individual may seem

  • unusually anxious or nervous,
  • distracted,
  • self-absorbed, and/or
  • irritable or angry.

As the stress level increases, or if it lasts over a longer period of time, a person may begin to experience more severe emotional or even physical symptoms:

  • Excessive fatigue
  • Depression
  • Thoughts of hurting yourself or others
  • Headaches
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Chest pain or pressure
  • Heart racing
  • Dizziness or flushing
  • Tremulousness or restlessness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Hyperventilation or choking sensation

In most cases, these symptoms are very minor and don't last very long. If they become more severe or increase in frequency and severity, seek medical help.

Stress is defined as a disruption of normal homeostasis. ... Diagnosis of stress, therefore, depends on a multitude of factors and is complex. A variety of approaches to the diagnosis of stress have been employed, including the use of questionnaires, biochemical measures, and physiologic techniques.

It may not be possible to remove the stress from your life; however, managing your stress may help you to get things done. Below are some ideas for managing stress:

  • Be aware - monitor your levels of stress and ask whether they are helpful or getting you down.
  • Take stock - think about things in your life or pressures you place on yourself that may be increasing your stress.
  • Take charge - deal with unhelpful sources of stress before they build up and become a bigger problem.
  • Make choices - look at areas in your life where you could manage your situation better or change the way you respond.

Some examples of good ways to deal with stress:

  • Take some deep breaths.
  • Talk to someone you trust.
  • Create a stress diary, note down when you feel stressed and why.
  • Have a health check with your doctor.
  • Exercise.
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet.
  • Try to avoid smoking, alcohol and caffeine.
  • Make time for things you enjoy.

These are ways to help you bounce back and become more resilient to stress.

Recognising the signs and symptoms of stress will help you figure out ways of coping and save you from adopting unhealthy methods such as drinking or smoking.

You can talk to your doctor about ways to help you bounce back and become more resilient to stress.

Reduce caffeine and sugar. The temporary "highs" caffeine and sugar provide often end in with a crash in mood and energy. By reducing the amount of coffee, soft drinks, chocolate, and sugar snacks in your diet, you'll feel more relaxed and you'll sleep better. Avoid alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs.

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