Stress has spared no one, whether, you are a school going kid; or a boy dating a girl; or a man handling the office chaos. Be it young or old, men or women, rich or poor, healthy or ill; everyone has suffered from stress at some point in their lives, especially, after the modernization of this world. Our lives are full of stress which sometimes helps us but for most of the time, it affects us. It can come at any point in time due to thousands of reasons causing the multitude of problems.
Currently, more than 80% of the Indian population suffers from stress.
What is Stress?
It can be defined as any uncomfortable experience which results in biochemical, physiological and behavioral changes of our body. Things responsible for causing stress are called stressors. Stress can increase the risk of various illnesses.
The risk of illness caused by stress can vary from person to person. For e.g. a stress affecting an individual resulting in an illness may not cause illness in another person. There are several factors like genetics, coping style, personality and social support which can increase the risk of illness due to stress in an individual.
Not every stress is accompanied by negative effects. When your body tolerates the stress to enhance your performance then that stress is said to be positive, healthy or challenging and is termed as eustress. It can give people strength, good adaptation abilities and even motivation helping them to overcome the tough situations. For e.g. it can give enthusiasm to the public speaker or inspiration to an athlete.
Stress becomes problematic when it affects our ability to cope, leads to exhaustion or physical problems and changes our behavior. This type of stress is negative and is termed as distress. It can lead to confusion, poor concentration, overreaction and anxiety.
Types of Stress, its Causes and Symptoms
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), there are generally 3 types of stress. These are acute stress, episodic acute stress and chronic stress.
- Acute Stress
It is the most common form of stress which occurs for short-term and can be managed easily. Initially, acute stress is thrilling and exciting but as it progresses it becomes exhausting. It can be due to various reasons like an accident, regular traffic jams, a deadline, fear of losing an opportunity, child’s problems, difficulty in following schedules and so on.
The most common symptoms include anger, irritability, anxiety and depression. Additionally, other symptoms like tension, headache, back pain, jaw pain, stomach or gut problems, acidity, diarrhea, constipation, high blood pressure, chest pain, shortness of breath, dizziness and cold hands or feet can also be observed.
- Episodic acute stress
In this, individuals suffer acute stress frequently and their lives are disordered and chaotic. Despite being in a hurry they are always late. Being tense, over-aroused, short-tempered, irritation and anxious are common for people suffering from episodic acute stress. They can be very aggressive, impatient, competitive, insecure and worrywarts who see disaster around every corner.
Its common symptoms are persistent tension, headaches, migraines, high blood pressure, chest pain and heart disease. Treating episodic acute stress generally requires a professional help and can take several months.
- Chronic stress
In contrast to acute stress, chronic stress is not at all thrilling and exciting at the beginning. In fact, it is a grinding stress which results in exhaustion by each passing day. Chronis stress destroys an individual’s minds and lives. It can be due to the financial conditions, dysfunctional families, unhappy marriages or relationship, poor career, bad childhood experiences and so forth.
It results in a miserable situation wherein, an individual gives up searching for solutions. Its worst aspect is that people get used to it and starts ignoring it. Recovery for chronic stress often requires self-examination with the help of professionals.
Chronic stress is one of the major reasons behind the violence, suicide, heart attacks, stroke and even certain cancer. Its common symptoms are extreme irritability, fatigue, headache, difficulty in concentration, sleeping problems, feeling of helplessness, low self-esteem, nervousness, digestive problems and eating too much or too little. Its symptoms are difficult to treat and can require medical treatment along with stress management therapies.
Impact of Stress on our Body
- Immune System
The immune system plays a significant role in fighting with infections and toxins within your body. Prolonged stress can weaken your immune system reducing its ability to fight foreign invaders and infections. There is an increased risk of viral illnesses like flu and common cold to humans who are suffering from chronic stress. Stress over a long time also increases the recovering time of an individual from any disease or injury.
Stress results in muscle tense up and then once the stress passes, muscles release their tension. In chronic stress, your muscles constantly remain tensed and doesn’t get the chance to relax. It can lead to headaches, back pain, shoulder pain and body aches.
Stress triggers fast breathing so that oxygen can quickly be distributed in different parts of your body. It may be normal for many but it can be problematic for individuals who are already suffering from breathing problems like asthma or emphysema (a lung disease) making breathing harder. Furthermore, it can also cause rapid breathing which can lead to panic attacks in some people.
Acute stress increases your heart rate by releasing the stress hormones (adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol). Additionally, it also results in high blood pressure because of your fight or flight response. The body returns to a normal state when acute stress passes. While chronic stress can contribute to long-term heart-related problems. Consistent increase in your stress hormones level, heart rate and high blood pressure increases the risk of heart attack and stroke.
When certain stress hormones are released due to stress, the liver produces more glucose (sugar) to provide extra energy due to fight or flight response. In normal individuals, if we don’t use all the glucose as the energy then body reabsorbs the glucose but it can cause diabetes to people who are at higher risk of type 2 diabetes.
Stress can affect your appetite; you may eat more or less than the usual which can result in heartburn or acidity. Stress can also lead to diarrhea or constipation. During stress, your brain becomes more alert towards your stomach sensations which may lead to nausea or even vomiting. In some chronic cases, ulcers might develop.
- Reproductive System
In males, stress can affect the normal functioning of the male reproductive system. Chronic stress can affect testosterone production, sperm production and can even lead to erectile dysfunction. It also increases the risk of infection to the prostate gland and urethra.
In females, it can affect the menstrual cycle leading to irregular, heavier or painful periods. In menopausal women, stress can lead to an increasing number of hot flashes or more intense hot flashes.
It’s not stress that kills us; it is our reaction to it. –Hans Selye
There are several pharmacological (with the use of medicines) and non-pharmacological strategies designed for managing stress. Here we will discuss different non-pharmacological approaches which include exercise, relaxation techniques like meditation, sleep cycle and others.
- Identifying the Cause
Realizing that you are stressed is very important after which identifying its cause becomes the key. Monitor your whole day and whenever you feel stressed write down the cause, your mood and the thoughts. Once you know the cause, now you can work out on the plan to address it, like eliminating any tasks which are not essentials or changing your priorities or more reasonable schedules and so on.
It is the most effective way to tackle stress. Daily exercise makes you mentally and physically strong which helps you in relaxing and avoiding the stress. Some exercises like brisk walking, swimming, cycling, and jogging are the simplest ways to boost your mood, improve sleep and combat stress.
- Relaxation Techniques
Different relaxation techniques like listening to soft music, yoga, deep breathing and meditation helps in relieving stress. Various researches have proved that meditation is one of the most effective ways for stress management. Meditation also helps in lowering blood pressure which is very important in stressful scenarios.
- Sleeping More
Working till late night on your computers or laptops or using your mobile phones before going to bed can affect your sleep. These screens emit blue light which slows down the production of sleep hormone of your body called melatonin which results in low sleep duration. Sleeping for around 7-8 hours is recommended to overcome or avoid stress.
- Wake up Early
Some studies have shown that early birds or people who get up early in the morning don’t suffer from stress as much as the one who wakes up late. Early birds are also better at their work, have more carrier opportunities and proactive.
- Get Help
Even after trying different techniques, if you are not able to overcome your stress or its symptoms, then don’t be hesitant to consult any psychologist or health experts. They can help you in managing stress more effectively by identifying the cause and then designing an action plan.
The 2 Most Common Myths of Stress
- Stress is the same for everyone
Fact: No! It varies from person to person. It is not necessary that if something is stressful for one person may also be stressful for another person. Different individuals respond differently to stress. For e.g. some people standing in queues to pay the electricity bill may find it stressful but for others, it may or may not be stressful at all.
- Stress is very common and you can’t do anything about it
Fact: Not Exactly. With effective planning, we can manage stress easily. It may be related to solving your problems, setting priorities, scheduling your day, talking with your partner about your problems, living a healthy lifestyle or others.
Somehow this disease has become one of the greatest burdens to this global population. Now whether this stress endemic will decrease or not, that totally depends upon the individual’s keenness to seek help. And to conclude this article, nothing could be better than the lines said by Valerie Bertinelli- There’s going to be stress in life, but it’s your choice whether to let it affect you or not.
For Further Reading