Dealing with stress! This word has been synonymous with adulthood. Like, when you understand what stress is, it’s time to say goodbye to your childhood. We, the adults, use self-deprecating humor and stress-related memes and expect some form of relief from this day-to-day demon. We developed it by the process of evolution. Any threat invoking situation causes stress which causes physical, emotional pressure causing bodily tension and initiate complex reaction of endocrinological systems and very complicated hormones flood our body to fled or confront the problem. Cortisol and adrenaline are released.
What is stress, and what causes stress, and ways deal with it.
Stress is a very normal emotion, like any other emotion. It is a part of our defense mechanism and helps us to protect ourselves from dangers and predators. We developed it by the process of evolution. Any threat invoking situation causes stress which causes physical, emotional pressure causing bodily tension and initiate complex reaction of endocrinological systems and very complicated hormones flood our body to fled or confront the problem.
Cortisol generally suppresses our immune system and therefore, make us prone to infection and inflammatory condition. It reduces our ability to fight off antigens and lowers the number of lymphocytes. On the release of stress hormones, cortisol, and adrenaline, the liver produces extra glucose to prepare our body with energy to deal with stressful situations. For many people, this extra blood sugar doesn’t get reabsorbed while the stress reduces. So it increases the chance of blood sugar. As stress affects the endocrine glands, the regular menstrual cycle may get hampered due to extreme stress.
In modern lives, we don’t have any natural predators but many other things to worry about. The pressure of our work performance, financial goals, anxiety to perform well in the exam, social media-induced stress may not eat us alive but can cause a lot of uncertainty or damage in our life. So, our survival kicks in, and we get stressed.
Dealing with stress
It is essential to know how to deal with stress in a healthy way where the unhealthy mechanisms may provide temporary relief that are harmful to health in the long term. Let’s take a look at the common ways how you may manage your stress:
- Self-care: Take care of your health where it may be going to sleep early or taking your medicines on time. You may read your favorite book or take a bath to relax.
- Exercise: Several studies have proved exercising helps in reducing stress. Exercising also keeps your body healthy, which further helps to manage stress better. It doesn’t mean you have to join a gym to reap the benefits of exercise; taking a walk for few minutes does wonders too.
- Be Mindful: our life is the very first paced, and we often feel overwhelmed. Take time to slow down and appreciate the small things in life, whether it’s the clear sky or the chirping of birds.
- Deep breathing: When feeling stressed, take a few deep breaths for a few minutes to unwind yourself from the current project. This practice takes off the pressure instantly and gives you a refreshed feeling to start anew.
- Take breaks: While scheduling your day, don’t forget to include small gaps. While you may think working for more hours will be more productive, many experts say that it increases stress and becomes inefficient.
- Talk it out: When feeling stressed, don’t shy away from sharing your problems with someone. It might help reduce stress, and you may also get some valuable advice.
- Eat healthily: Eating a balanced diet at proper times is beneficial for health. Eating healthy provides you with adequate nutrition and reduces stress. At the same time, unhealthy eating and binge eating increases pressure and is harmful to your health.
- Listen to music: Listening to calm music improves overall mood and helps in reducing stress. Experts found that listening to music helps in lowering cortisol, a hormone linked to stress.
- Laugh it off: Laughter releases endorphins which decreases the stress hormone cortisol. You may watch a comedy show or a sitcom while taking a break and have a good dose of laughter.
- Learn to say no: Don’t give the same importance to every task. Learn to prioritize effectively, which will, in turn, reduce the workload and the stress that accompanies it.
- Manage your time correctly: Scheduling your day and managing your time reduces the additional stress of figuring out when to do what. It helps you take proper breaks and reduces the chances of work piling up.
- Set realistic goals: Don’t overestimate yourself so much that you take up huge loads of work at once. Don’t allocate less than the required time to a task and increase stress. Try to take up jobs that you know you are capable of and give time accordingly.
- Play with your pet: If you have a pet, spend time with them. Cuddling or playing with your furry friends will help in reducing stress and provide comfort.
- Journal: If you have no one to talk to about your feelings, try writing them down in a journal. Writing your thoughts down helps in clearing your mind and put you at ease. After all, “paper has more patience than people” – Anne Frank.
Is stress genetically inherited?
It is a research topic for many well-known scientists, and they are conducting many studies to conclude unanimously. Primarily, it is thought that stress experienced by a person depends on individual biological vulnerability as well as environmental factors like parenting, social cycle, and support, lifestyle, and also any traumatic experience as a child or adult.
Scientists found a tiny difference in our gene named single nucleotide polymorphism can affect the secretion of different types of enzymes and hormones. These hormones are quite a bit responsible for the psychological responses we make.
Types of stress
There are mainly three types of stress:-
- Acute stress:- It is the most common form of stress experienced by humans in response to unexpected dangerous, or life-threatening situations. Its effect is very short-term; we tend to release our tension just after we feel our danger is over. Like, while submitting your answer sheet at the last minute in the online exam. Or you were about to fall in the drain.
However, stress due to past traumatic events can lead to PTSD that is a post-traumatic stress disorder, which can be very hard to deal with.
The signs of acute stress are:-
- Physical symptoms:- The physical symptoms include elevated blood pressure, rapid heartbeat, stomach upset, cold sweaty palms, palpitations, neck or jaw pain, headache, and any muscular tension.
- Emotional or mental symptoms:- Emotional symptoms are emotional distress, anger, and irritability, hypervigilance.
- Episodic acute stress:- Episodic acute stress is a frequent occurrence of acute stress, as the name suggests. It happens due to frequent occurrence of stressors. Like, you have series of exams or a very hectic schedule for a week. Physically and mentally, it becomes very exhausting to deal with, and many intended mistakes creep in your way. Some lifestyle choices can induce episodical stress. These episodes may indicate that you are taking too much workload for your good. You need to take a break and make some changes to your strategy. But most of the time, it is our hand. Please do remember, nothing is more important than your well-being. Sometimes, some types of medication can also induce such stress. If not treated or resolved the issue, can lead to severe physical problems and chronic stress.
Some signs of episodic acute stress:-
- Physical symptoms:- Physical symptoms of episodic acute stress are tightness and ache in muscles and jaw, rapid and continuous heartbeat, a constant state of palpitations, heartburn, digestive issues, panic attacks.
- Emotional symptoms:- Mental or emotional symptoms are a constant worry, increased pessimistic thinking, anger, and irritability, getting upset quickly, unintended aggression.
- Chronic stress:- This type of stress happens very frequently and gives a very prolonged and constant feeling, as the name suggests. Chronic stress occurs because the stressors are very frequent or persistent, like our workplace problems or family problems. There can be four types of chronic stress, emotional, environmental, relationship, and work life. The prolonged stress does not let our autonomous nervous system activate the relaxation response. Experts say that our body can not handle an extended state of psychological hyperarousal and cause wear and tear in our body.
Many diseases like cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, depression have links with chronic stress. Chronic stress even affects our brain structure. Professionals noticed microscopic changes in the overall design of our brain and subtle variation in volume and neural pathways. There is always a link between the brain and our immune system. Changes in the brain due to stress affect our immune system, which in turn causes more stress and patients fall into a vicious cycle.
Some signs of chronic stress:-
- Physical symptoms of chronic stress:- Some physical symptoms of chronic stress are anxiety attacks, digestive problems, headache, aches in muscles, chest pain, and heavy chest, Clenched jaw, cardiovascular diseases, different types of sleep disorders like insomnia, extreme weight gain, or loss, a cognitive problem like difficulty in focus, low energy, and chronic fatigue, skin-related issues like frequent outbreaks.
- Emotional symptoms of chronic stress:- Some mental or emotional symptoms are depression, irritability, angry outburst, procrastination, tendency to avoid responsibility, excessive drinking, and smoking as a coping mechanism.
Unhealthy ways of coping with stress
With our daily lives filled with stress, it’s natural for us to find ways to cope with stress. Some coping mechanisms form a habit that we perform unnoticed when facing pressure. The problem arises if these coping mechanisms do us more harm than good.
Let us take a look at few common unhealthy coping mechanisms:
- Biting nails: Do you find yourself biting your nails in a stressful situation? That might be your way to cope with stress.
- Overeating: While eating may provide a temporary distraction, overconsumption can lead to various health problems such as weight gain, obesity, etc.
- Eating too little: Amongst all the pressure and stress, you may find yourself not eating correctly. Skipping meals and starving will deteriorate your health and make it harder for you to manage stress.
- Sleeping too much: While problems cease to exist while we sleep, they still live in the real world, and we have to face them when we wake up. Sleeping more than eight hours at once or taking long naps throughout the day will lead to various problems in your daily life.
- Sleeping too little: Sleeping too little or pulling all-nighters reduces brain function. Proper sleep helps you retain information and enhances problem-solving skills. Aim for a solid seven to my hours of sleep each night for adequate health.
- Lashing out at others: Do you find yourself lashing out at others over small things, whether verbally or physically? It may be a sign of being stressed, which needs addressing.
- Consuming too much media: Whether it’s scrolling through social media pages or watching the news a bit too much, too much screen time is harmful to mental health.
- Isolating yourself: Isolation may add to the existing stress since you cannot talk out your problems. Feeling lonely isn’t good for mental health either.
- Drinking alcohol: While alcohol may act as a temporary sedative in numbing your stress, long-term alcohol consumption is detrimental to health.
- Smoking cigarettes: For long-term smokers, cigarettes sometimes provide the illusion of reducing stress, but in the long term, it harms your lungs and health.
- Taking drugs: Overuse of recreational drugs and illegal drugs causes more harm than good, and you should avoid them.
Stress is a part of our regular life, but that doesn’t mean we should not treat it and let it be. Over time stress causes serious harm to the brain and body, which you can surely avoid if stress is managed from an early stage effectively. We should also keep in mind that what works for one person may not work for the other, so try out various strategies to find what helps you to manage your stress. You may also consult a psychologist if needed.