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Understanding Stress

Generally stress occurs when you are faced with events that you may see as threatening to your physical or mental well-being. These events are referred to as stressors, and your reactions to them are your stress responses.

The more uncontrollable your life or a particular event seems to you, the more likely it will be perceived by you as stressful. The key words here is perception as an event that you may find stressful, someone else may find stimulating or challenging. We all cope with stress in different ways; there are situations and problems, which will cause stress to one individual but not to another.

In a way we are all living in a state of constant tension and we are all, without exception, subject to stress. It is usually linked to something we are doing and stress arises from our self-piled on pressure to try to succeed. Countless other events also create stress, like major changes in your life or the death of a close relative. In this age of technology with our busier lifestyles, many more people feel under constant pressure and can be said to be leading continually stressful lives. 

We are enormously affected by the pressure of our difficult life circumstances when they arrive. We carry within us the emotional pain of past events, together with the tension of the ongoing psychological problems they have produced. 

Life has placed many demands and pressures on individuals and we are only capable of bearing added responsibilities for a limited period, their unconsidered continuation is dangerous. Sometimes people find it difficult to cope with the extra demands of life as they occur. We all have a breaking point. 

When under stress, a number of physiological changes happen in the body that triggers something known as “fight or flight” response. This reaction helped our ancestors survive, making them fit for dealing or fleeing from dangerous situations. The body gears itself to deal with stress in the same way. Though this reaction is largely unconscious, the hypothalamus gland in the brain sends electrical and chemical messages to the pituitary gland, which is responsible for hormone production. 

The stress hormone adrenaline exerts an effect on the liver causing an increase in blood sugar levels. This increase is appropriate when sugar levels are low, or when some strenuous exercise is anticipated. But a person, who is experiencing stressful life circumstances, whether real or perceived, will secrete excessive amounts of adrenaline into their blood. This produces physical symptoms of anxiety like a rapid heart rate, palpitations, dry mouth, dilated pupils, sweating, diarrhoea and headaches. 

The body slowly adapts to being under stress but it has far reaching implications to your health. Whatever the origin, stress have the power to reek havoc, not just psychologically, but physically too.

As a positive influence, called “eustress,” stress can help compel us to action. It can result in new awareness and exciting new perspectives. It adds anticipation and excitement to life. Deadlines, competitions and confrontations give appropriate amounts of “stress” that stimulate and motivate us into action and can be very beneficial. We experience a positive stress at a good action movie, a concert, having a baby or getting married. When the event is over no residual tension is left. It can help us win at things, give a good account of ourselves and even look our best. That’s the stress of the joy of being alive. 

As a negative influence, called “distress,” it can detrimentally affect the way a person thinks, feels and behaves. This usually occurs with death of a loved one, divorce, accident or when a person has lost his job. It can result in feelings of distrust, rejection, anger and depression, which in turn lead to health problems. When the pressure becomes too great it causes a build up of residual tension that break down the body and mind systems. 

Stress can be triggered by many factors. Life changes quickly and we feel out of control. More and more things need to be squeezed into day and more things need to be squeezed into life. Even communication is fast and furious.  

We have controlling factors in our life causing us stress. Though some may be beneficial, like law and order, others make us feel we are surrendering our personal freedom. These include influences like regulations, high rates and food prices. It makes us feel trapped by authority and we feel it controls and dictates the way we live and spend out time. 

The complexity of new technology also increases our stress. We may have a computer and struggle to use it or worry how to repair it when it breaks. 

Our social behaviour has a big influence on stress as well. Rivalry, jealousy and abuse can be taxing issues.  Even punishment in children leads to a high level of stress. 

Not only life-threatening events trigger stress. We experience it almost any time we come across something unexpected or something that frustrates our goals. 

It is essential that a balance of work and leisure be maintained. Life has to be balanced. Most people spend a lot of your time rushing around, working, and looking after the house and children. Working too hard at home may happen as easily as at work and you could end up being tired and stressed because you are doing too much.  Working too hard is usually a self-imposed state of affairs because of our desire to succeed. Because we are afraid of failure and try a little bit harder, we have a decreasing amount of time available for social life, leisure, exercise and hobbies. These are thing we need to regenerate ourselves outside of work. 

As we adjust to different circumstance, stress can help or hinder us depending on how we react to it. Our goal should not be to eliminate stress but to learn how to manage it and how to use it to help us. If approached positively, stress can help us evolve as a person and prod you to look for the true happiness of life. The choice is between becoming a slave to the stressful situations of life or using them to our advantage. 

Effects of stress on the body

  1. A racing pulse
  2. Increased blood pressure
  3. Irregular breathing
  4. Inability to relax
  5. Allergies, infection and more vulnerable to infections like colds and flue
  6. Eating disorders like obesity develop
  7. Excessive smoking and drinking
  8. Tightening of the back and neck muscles
  9. Exhaustion and fatigue
  10. Pressure to empty the bladder and bowel or diarrhoea
  11. Feeling tired and exhausted but also over-stimulated as if you have drunk too much caffeine
  12. Immune systems can be affected and cancer can develop.
  13. Poor sleeping habits and insomnia
  14. Heart disease can develops and risk of stroke increases
  15. Headaches
  16. Increased sweating
  17. Feelings of nausea, or “butterflies” in stomach
  18. Dry mouth
  19. Aches and pains

Effects of stress on the mind

  1. Feeling low
  2. Depressed
  3. Feeling anxious
  4. Suffer from irritability, mood swings, anger, disappointment and frustration
  5. Difficulty in concentrating.
  6. Losing a sense of humour
  7. Ordinary situations are treated as emergencies or life-threatening situations
  8. Recall is hindered.
  9. Feelings of hostility, restlessness and helplessness
  10. Overreacting or reacting emotionally
  11. Burnout or breakdown

Effects of stress on performance

  1. Insecurity
  2. Feel workload is excessive
  3. Activities can make you feel drained
  4. Feel overwhelmed by new responsibilities
  5. Find it difficult to cope with distractions
  6. Feeling out of control
  7. Being unreasonably negative
  8. Increased absenteeism
  9. Neglect of personal appearance

Effects of stress on sleep

  1. Impaired sleep patterns
  2. Insomnia
  3. Usually wake up not feeling refreshed.

Effects of stress on decision-making

  1. Tend to get things out of proportion
  2. Clear judgment is affected and it is difficult to make good decisions

Effects of stress on relationships

  1. An unaffectionate or unforgiving spouse
  2. Lack of proper communication
  3. Feels that relationship demands are overwhelming.
  4. For a young person meeting new people could be an ordeal
  5. Difficulty in controlling adolescents or teenagers
  6. Children underperforming in school
  7. Difficulty in handling stepchildren
  8. Extramarital relationships develop
  9. Unable and/or unwilling to find quality time for each other

Effects of stress on sexuality

  1. Stress affects the nervous system, including those of the brain and endocrine glands. The same glands involved in the sexual process. Long-term stress can hopelessly interfere with a man’s ability to achieve full sexual satisfaction or to even become aroused at all. It can also effect sperm production and motility.
  2. Sex drive is reduced. 
  3. Nerves that put stress on the master gland that controls much of the female functioning is affected and could cause chronic pelvic pain, painful intercourse and irregular menstruation. 
  4. Unable to handle physical and emotional demands

Learning to understand and manage stress can prevent its counter effects. It is possible, through observation and understanding to cope with stress. 

It will mean taking stock and examining your life. It is important to realize that stress is very much to do with perception. In other words, it’s how you see a situation. Take note of what makes you feel stressed and see if there is any way of altering the circumstances. 

Get back in control by defining your problems and looking at alternative solutions.  Look at what you can change to start reducing stress in your life. Slow down and don’t try to focus on more than one task at a time, otherwise you might feel overwhelmed. 

Identify stress and deal with it. It is important to be aware of the varied pressures you are under at the moment; whether they are sleepless young children, financial hardship, employment worries, relationship problems or personal unfulfillment. It is all too easy to drift in times of stress. We struggle on and on, hoping it will just “go away”, but it won’t. It is far better to take a positive approach. Take time out and examine those things that are going on inside you, at the deeper level. Ironing stress out of life is the first step to fighting and conquering health-destroying addictions. Try to temper your excess emotions. Put the situation in perspective and do not labour on the negative aspects. 

Balancing family with professional life is tricky and often a frustrating challenge. It is important to consider the priorities and evaluate the choices, so that one can have time to work, time to play and time to make sure that life is as fulfilling as it can be. Stress often results from a conflict between work and family responsibilities.

It is also important to remember that recreation strike a balance between work and stress. Take up activities and hobbies. Temporarily setting aside your problems could prove helpful.  

Eat a good diet,  junk food puts more strain on your body. If necessary, supplement your diet with a multi-vitamin and mineral tablet. 

Slow down your breathing and practice breathing properly. When we adapt to stress we tend to breathe fast all the time. Slowing down your breathing will also dramatically improve your energy.

Give up smoking. You will never successfully reduce your stress levels while you continue to smoke. Exercise helps burn up stress. Noise can cause intense stress and high levels of noise can severely impair your ability to concentrate. Listen to soothing music if you can or whatever invigorates you and lifts your mood. 

Seek emotional support from close friends, relatives or a councillor. Talking a problem through can reduce your stress significantly. Examine your sleep pattern. It is important that you get enought sleep. Enjoy sunshine and fresh air. Surround yourself with nature whenever you can. 

Finally relaxation! Numerous studies have shown that the most important way to tackle stress and re-energize is by learning to relax. Learn the difference between tension and relaxation. 



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