Stress Management

Stress: What is it?

Although we all talk about stress, it often isn’t clear what stress is really about. Many people consider stress to be something that happens to them, an event such as an injury or a job loss. Others think that stress is what happens to our body, mind, and behavior in response to an event (E.g. heart pounding, anxiety, or nail biting). While stress does involve events and our response to then, these are not the most important factors. Our thoughts about the situations in which we find ourselves are the critical factor. When something happens to us, we automatically evaluate the situation mentally. We decide if it is threatening to us, how we need to deal with the situation, and what skills we can use. If we decide that the demands of the situation outweigh the skills we have, then we label the situation as “stressful” and react with the classic “stress response.” If we decide that our coping skills outweigh the demands of the situation, then we don’t see it as “stressful.”

Stress can come from any situation or thought that makes you feel frustrated, angry, or anxious. Everyone sees situations differently and has different coping skills. For this reason, no two people will respond exactly the same way to a given situation.

Additionally, not all situations that are labeled “stressful” are negative. The birth of a child, being promoted at work, or moving to a new home may not be perceived as threatening. However, we may feel that situations are “stressful” because we don’t feel fully prepared to deal with them.

Stress is a normal part of life. In small quantities, stress is good; it can motivate you and help you become more productive. However, too much stress, or a strong response to stress can be harmful. How we perceive a stress provoking event and how we react to it determines its impact on our health. We may be motivated and invigorated by the events in our lives, or we may see some as “stressful” and respond in a manner that may have a negative effect on our physical, mental, and social well-being.

If we always respond in a negative way, our health and happiness may suffer. By understanding ourselves and our reaction to stress-provoking situations, we can learn to handle stress more effectively. In the most accurate meaning, stress management is not about learning how to avoid or escape the pressures and turbulence of modern living; it is about learning to appreciate how the body reacts to these pressures, and about learning how to develop skills which enhance the body’s adjustment. To learn stress management is to learn about the mind-body connection and to the degree to which we can control our health in a positive sense.

Sources of Stress

We can experience stress from four basic sources:

The Environment – the environment can bombard you with intense and competing demands to adjust. Examples of environmental stressors include weather, noise, crowding, pollution, traffic, unsafe and substandard housing, and crime.

Social Stressors – we can experience multiple stressors arising from the demands of the different social roles we occupy, such as parent, spouse, caregiver, and employee. Some examples of social stressors include deadlines, financial problems, job interviews, presentations, disagreements, demands for your time and attention, loss of a loved one, divorce, and co-parenting.

Physiological – Situations and circumstances affecting our body can be experienced as physiological stressors. Examples of physiological stressors include rapid growth of adolescence, menopause, illness, aging, giving birth, accidents, lack of exercise, poor nutrition, and sleep disturbances.

Thoughts – Your brain interprets and perceives situations as stressful, difficult, painful, or pleasant. Some situations in life are stress provoking, but it is our thoughts that determine whether they are a problem for us.

Types of Stressors

Situations that are considered stress provoking are known as stressors. Stress is not always a bad thing. Stress is simply the body’s response to changes that create taxing demands. Many professionals suggest that there is a difference between what we perceive as positive stress, and distress, which refers to negative stress. In daily life, we often use the term “stress” to describe negative situations. This leads many people to believe that all stress is bad for you, which is not true.

Positive stress has the following characteristics:

  •    Motivates, focuses energy

  •    Is short-term

  •    Is perceived as within our coping abilities

  •    Feels exciting

  •    Improves performance

In contrast, negative stress has the following characteristics:

  •    Causes anxiety or concern

  •    Can be short or long-term

  •    It's perceived as outside of our coping abilities

  •    Feels unpleasant

  •    Decreases performance

  • Can lead to mental and physical problems

It is somewhat hard to categorize stressors into objective lists of those that cause positive stress and those that cause negative stress, because different people will have different perceptions and reactions to particular situations. However, by generalizing, we can compile a list of stressors that are typically experienced as negative or positive to most people, most of the time.

Examples of negative personal stressors can include:

  • The death of a partner

  •    Filing for divorce

  •    Losing contact with loved ones

  •    The death of a family member

  •    Hospitalization (oneself or a family member)

  •    Injury or illness (oneself or a family member)

  •    Being abused or neglected

  •    Separation from a spouse or committed relationship partner

  •    Conflict in interpersonal relationships

  •    Bankruptcy/money problems

  •    Unemployment

  •    Sleep problems

  •    Children’s problems at school

  •    Legal problems

  •    Inadequate or substandard housing

  •    Excessive job demands

  •    Job insecurity

  •    Conflicts with team mates and supervisors

  •    Lack of training necessary to do a job

  •    Making presentations in front of colleagues or clients

  •    Unproductive and time-consuming meetings

  •    Commuting and travel schedules

Examples of positive personal stressors might include:

  •    Receiving a promotion at work

  •    Starting a new job

  •    Marriage or commitment ceremony

  •    Buying a home

  •    Having a child

  •    Moving

  •    Taking or planning a vacation

  •    Holiday seasons

  •    Retiring

  •    Taking educational classes or learning a new hobby

Effects of Stress:

Stress is difficult for professionals to define because it is a highly subjective phenomenon that differs for each of us. Things that are distressful for some individuals can be pleasurable for others. We also respond to stress differently. Some people blush, some eat more while others grow pale or eat less. There are numerous physical as well as emotional responses as illustrated by the following list of 25 common signs and symptoms of stress.

25 Common Signs and Symptoms of Stress

  1.    Frequent headaches, jaw clenching or pain

  2.    Tremors, trembling of lips, hands

  3.    Neck ache, back pain, muscle spasms

  4.    Light headedness, faintness, dizziness

  5.    Dry mouth, problems swallowing

  6.    Cold or sweaty hands, feet

  7.    Rashes, itching, hives, “goose bumps”

  8.    Heartburn, stomach pain, nausea

  9.    Constipation, diarrhea

  10.    Sudden attacks of panic

  11.    Chest pain, palpitations

  12.    Trouble learning new information

  13.    Difficulty in making decisions

  14.    Feeling overwhelmed

  15.    Frequent crying spells or suicidal thoughts

  16.    Feelings of loneliness or worthlessness

  17.    Overreaction to petty annoyances

  18.    Increased number of minor accidents

  19.    Reduced work productivity

  20.    Rapid or mumbled speech

  21.    Social withdrawal or isolation

  22.    Frequent use of over-the-counter drugs

  23.    Weight gain or loss without diet

  24.    Increased smoking, alcohol, or drug use

  25.    Excessive gambling or impulse buying

As demonstrated in the preceding list, stress can have wide ranging effects on emotion, mood, and behavior. Equally important but often less appreciated are effects on various systems, organs, and tissues all over the body.

The Effects of Stress

There are numerous emotional and physical disorders that have been linked to stress including depression, anxiety, heart attacks, stroke, hypertension, immune system disturbances that increase susceptibility to infections, a host of viral linked disorders ranging from the common cold to herpes to certain cancers, as well as autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis.

In addition, stress can have direct effects on the skin (rashes, hives, atopic dermatitis), the gastrointestinal system (GERD, peptic ulcer, irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerativecolitis) and can contribute to insomnia and degenerative neurological disorders likeParkinson’s disease. In fact, it is hard to think of any disease in which stress cannotplay an aggravating role or any part of the body that is not affected. This list will undoubtedly grow as the extensive ramifications of stress are increasingly being appreciated.

Stress Relieving Techniques

  1.    Mindfulness

  2.    Body Scan

  3.    Walking Meditation

  4.    Mindful Eating

  5.    Progressive Muscle Relaxation

  6.    Deep Breathing

  7.    Guided Imagery

  8.    Self Massage

  9.    Biofeedback

At, Pinnacle Medical Medical Centre, we help you manage your stress.

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