Stress is the body’s natural answer to unbalancing effects. Stress may lead to continuous tension or long-time agitation. Chronic stress may be a source of serious health problems since it weakens the resilience of the body.
Stressors are the sources of the tension caused by stress. Every external effect with the consequence of stress reaction is a stressor. It is usually a new, unexpected factor that the affected person cannot control. Stress may be acute, chronic or continuous. The effect on health depends on the intensity of the stress as well.
Stress, however, is not always harmful. Stress has two major types: harmful distress and positive eustress. According to Janos Selye, “stress is the salt of life”.
The effects of stress on human body
The effectiveness and productivity of the human body is best at medium (moderate) stress levels. In such a condition alertness, concentration and focusing on tasks are at maximum, as well as problem-solving ability. As the tension rises, productivity decreases, under strong stress (like an exam) it may even cause a block down.
Stress-inducing situations elicit different answers with different symptoms. Elevated stress may be the cause of many symptoms.
Some of the common symptoms are listed below.
- Mental symptoms: decrease of concentration, losing focus, attention problems, restlessness, memory problems, inability of decision making, negative thinking, frequent mistakes.
- Emotional symptoms: irritability, being hot-tempered, rage, anger, fear, anxiety, feeling worthless and depressed, hopelessness, depression, crying, being upset.
- Physical symptoms: digestive problems, feeling sick, diarrhoea, back and shoulder pain, fast heart rate, high blood pressure, chest pain, fast breathing.
- Behavioural symptoms: neglecting social relationships, decreasing sexual drive, sleeping problems, eating problems, causing and having an accident.
- Miscellaneous symptoms: headache, dizziness, stiff neck, tiredness, exhaustion, excessive alcohol consumption and smoking.
Important! If you are uncertain of the cause of some of the symptoms presenting or you have chronic symptoms that affect everyday productivity and lifestyle, seek out your GP and ask for professional help on identifying the causes and treating the problem.
Advice on stress management
Pay attention to the signs and symptoms of stress and deal with them.
Think about your day: consider the most important challenges and difficulties in your life, and work. Estimate the everyday load. Name the harmful effects you would like to change.
Prioritize your tasks: always start with the urgent and important ones (in work and private life as well). Organize your tasks and goals and prioritize their importance by your own values and needs.
Learn to let go of the tension and stress about the not important or not very important things. List the stressors, and find the ones you could influence, shape or change. Take control and focus on controllable things. All other “necessary” bad things should be reframed to make it more acceptable and less stressful.
If a problem or stressor could be changed in the positive direction, write down the possibilities for a change. Plan your actions for the improvement of the situation.
Make a list of the people who support you in your family, friends, and work.
Learn to recognize the situations where you feel bad, tense, irritated, angry, disappointed etc. What was the trigger of those feelings? What could you have done in another way? Try to turn these situations into positive, change your behaviour and communication accordingly.
Distance yourself from avoidable stress triggering events. Do not seek the company of people who would only drain your energy. If you can, avoid the situation where you can only lose. If there is a request coming with a lot of tension and with no real consequences, do not hesitate to say no.
Take care of yourself: your daily routine should leave you time and energy for yourself. Get enough rest, take long walks, eat regularly, take time for your hobbies or other recharging activities. Be aware of your own demands, needs, expectations in relation to a specific situation or person.
There are several methods of coping. According to experts, everything what a person uses consciously to handle a stressful situation should be considered coping. Most important factors of coping are effort, purposefulness and social support. Impeding factors are learned inertia, lack of social support and losing control. When handling stress, excluding or reframing destructive, negative thoughts is crucial.
The choice of coping strategy depends on the person. A strategy may be focused on the problem or on the emotional impact it has. First step of the problem-focused coping strategy is identifying the problem. After doing so, the person can focus on the specific situation or problem. The next step is listing the possible results, choosing the best one and using it. The main goal of this method is to recognize and avoid the specific stress source in the future. The goal of emotion-focused coping method is that the person would be able to ease the stress-caused emotional reactions. This way, these emotions will not overwhelm him or her. This kind of method is useful when the situation cannot be influenced or changed.
Amongst the problem- and emotion-focused coping approaches, there are 8 distinct strategies.
- Confrontation: the person faces the problem and the stressor behind it.
- Distancing: emotional and cognitive distancing. This strategy may be helpful at every stage of the coping process.
- Controlling emotions and behaviour: the control of emotional reactions may be extremely helpful in stress situations.
- Seeking social support: ask for advice, help from the people around you. The quality of connections with family or friends are more important than the number of them.
- Taking responsibility: feeling personal control and effectiveness increases our influence on stress. Taking too much responsibility may lead to guilt and self-blame and may contribute to negative self-assessment.
- Problem solving and planning: an extremely useful coping strategy, which works by listing and assessing our possibilities to solve stress. The effectiveness of problem solving is affected by external information and feedback.
- Avoiding–escaping: it may seem inefficient, but in some situations, the only way to temporarily cope with stress is to not undertake confrontation.
- Seeking positive meaning: when a person is able to see a negative event as a challenge or see some positive aspects from another point of view, it may increase the possibility of successful coping a great deal. Although this “search for good in every bad” strategy may be harmful if we assess the situation wrongfully positive. This mistake will not lead to the solution but may increase the gravity of the problem.
Stress resistant personality traits
Psychologically trained and resilient personality approaches the world with curiosity, is able to adjust to changes and perceive them as challenges.
Three personality traits of a stress resilient personality are the following:
- Challenge: sees difficulties as challenges not as paralyzing circumstances. Mistakes and failures are possibilities to learn, and this way those become opportunities to further development, and do not affect the personality in a negative way.
- Commitment: passionate commitment for life and goals is important, not only in the field of work but in relationships and hobbies as well. This commitment will give goal to life and urges to make even more effort.
- Ability to control: with the proper inner control one may feel the capacity and power to handle different situations successfully.