Have you found yourself in a situation of stress and anxiety where your to-do list seems endless, deadlines are fast approaching and you find yourself saying ‘Eek! I feel stressed!’? But what is stress really, and how does it affect us?
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What is stress and anxiety?
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.
Stress is primarily a physical response. When stressed, the body thinks it is under attack and switches to ‘fight or flight’ mode, releasing a complex mix of hormones and chemicals such as adrenaline, cortisol and norepinephrine to prepare the body for physical action. This causes a number of reactions, from blood being diverted to muscles to shutting down unnecessary bodily functions such as digestion.
Common causes of stress
A common cause of stress is having too much to do and too little time in which to do it. And yet in this situation, many people will still agree to take on additional responsibility. Learning to say “No” to additional or unimportant requests will help to reduce your level of stress, and may also help you develop more self-confidence.
Sometimes, however, negative feelings can be very stressful. Maybe you’re worried, angry, scared, or frustrated. This kind of stress isn’t good for you, and over the long-term can cause serious problems.
While stress affects everyone differently, there are many causes of stress that can have a negative impact, including:
- The death of a loved one
- Loss of a job
- Increase in financial obligations
- Getting married
- Moving to a new home
- Chronic illness or injury
- Emotional problems (depression, anxiety, anger, grief, guilt, low self-esteem)
- Taking care of an elderly or sick family member
- Traumatic event, such as a natural disaster, theft, rape, or violence against you or a loved one
Tips for managing stress and anxiety
People can learn to manage stress and lead happier, healthier lives. Here are some tips to help you keep stress at bay.
- Keep a positive attitude.
- Accept that there are events that you cannot control.
- Be assertive instead of aggressive. Assert your feelings, opinions, or beliefs instead of becoming angry, defensive, or passive.
- Learn and practice relaxation techniques; try meditation, yoga, or tai-chi.
- Exercise regularly. Your body can fight stress better when it is fit.
- Eat healthy, well-balanced meals.
- Learn to manage your time more effectively.
- Set limits appropriately and say no to requests that would create excessive stress in your life.
- Make time for hobbies and interests.
- Get enough rest and sleep. Your body needs time to recover from stressful events.
- Don’t rely on alcohol, drugs, or compulsive behaviors to reduce stress. Drugs and alcohol can stress your body even more.
- Seek out social support. Spend enough time with those you love.
- Seek treatment with a psychologist or other mental health professional trained in stress management or biofeedback techniques to learn more healthy ways of dealing with the stress in your life.
How to avoid stress
People are better able to cope with stress and anxiety when their bodies are healthy. Poor health in itself is a major source of stress. Incorporating periods of physical exercise into your routine will help to improve muscle control, make you feel healthier and increase self-esteem. Try to improve your diet and avoid stimulants as much as possible. Excess caffeine or nicotine can make individuals feel anxious or on-edge. Also, ensure you get enough sleep.
Knowing what is likely to cause stress can help avoid such things in the future. Keep a record of what situations make you stressful and see how you might deal with them in other ways in the future.