Stress is an inevitable part of daily life and is not necessarily a negative component. For example, reacting to a physical attack with an instinctive rush of adrenaline and cortisone is an effective means of equipping the body to defend itself against outside forces. This is a good thing. However, a constant, chronic, and continual state of stress is unhealthy and can lead to emotional, physical, and behavioral problems.
Causes of Stress
Stress has many causes, including physical pain, an emotional loss, a dramatic change in normal routine, financial problems, work-related issues or other traumatic life events. The three biggest life stressors are death, divorce, and moving. Sometimes all three occur at the same time.
Signs of Stress
When a person is stressed out, the body is working overtime to relieve the tension. All that extra energy has to go somewhere. It can be converted to emotional, physical, or behavioral distress.
Physical signs of stress include:
- Back pain
- Constipation or diarrhea
- High blood pressure
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Neck or jaw stiffness
- Upset stomach
- Weight changes (loss or gain)
Emotional signs of stress are:
Behavioral signs of stress follow:
- Sleep disturbances/insomnia, waking in the night
- Physical violence
- Alcohol and drug addiction
If left untreated, stress can take over a person's life. In extreme cases, stress can result in violent behaviors that are dangerous to the stressed-out person as well as those around them. Often making simple changes in one's emotional environment can improve overall emotional health.
Tips to Deal with Stress
- Be realistic about what you can do to control the stressful situation and accept that some things cannot change.
- Solve a small problem that you do have control over.
- Get at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep. Rest heals the physical body as well as the emotional psyche.
- Eat a balanced diet. Good nutrition feeds the body and the soul.
- Exercise, even simply walking, is an easy way to relieve pent-up energy and produces "feel good" endorphin hormones.
- Over learn and over prepare for a stressful situation, thus reducing the anticipatory tension.
- Socialize more. Talk with a friend to get the tense feelings out and to receive positive feedback and hugs.
- Exercise your brain. Reading a book or solving a word puzzle can serve as a distraction from a stressful situation.
- Enjoy nature. Finding peace in nature can be relaxing, leaving you uplifted and calmer.
- Indulge in personal relaxation. Try a massage or hot tub water therapy.
- Develop a hobby.
- Volunteer at a nonprofit organization.
- Better meet your own needs by occasionally saying "no" to friends if you are feeling overwhelmed with your schedule.
- Laugh every day.
- Attend a concert or live theater.
- Practice yoga.
- Get in touch with your spiritual side.
- Breathe deeply to oxygenate the brain; this is the body's natural antidote to stress.
Sometimes self-help techniques are not sufficient to treat stress and its accompanying effects. If stress is persistent and starts interfering with everyday life, you might consider the following:
- Meeting with a mental health counselor or psychologist in individual, one-on-one sessions.
- Support group therapy. In group meetings, each participant shares their feelings and attempts to come to terms with their own problems, while supporting and getting support from the other members of the group. For example, when drug and/or alcohol abuse has been the unhealthy response to stress, many people have found relief by attending Alcoholics Anonymous or another twelve-step program.
- In addition, psychiatrists can prescribe anti-anxiety medications for out-patient and in-patient situations. No one technique is the definitive answer.
It is always important to remember that each person is an individual with their own problems, reactions, and solutions. The key is matching solutions to fit in with one's lifestyle and needs.