Stress Management

In this video, we’re going to learn about stress and the role it can play throughout our bodies.

So, what is stress and why is it so important? Stress is our body’s way of responding to any kind of demand or potential threat.  This can often happen when you sense danger. Whether it’s real or imagined, the body’s defenses kick into high gear by way of a rapid, automatic process known as “fight-or-flight”.  Stress is a part of everyday life and it’s your body’s way of protecting you.  It’s worth mentioning that stress is not always a bad thing.

When working properly, it can help you stay focused, energetic, and alert. In emergency situations, stress can save your life—giving you the extra strength you need to defend yourself, such as slamming on the brakes to avoid a car accident. Our response to stress is an automatic state, which causes the body to make changes in order to adapt to demand.   

Different Types of Stress

Stress is often categorized into two groups, including Eustress or Distress. Eustress is positive stress that can fuel motivation, excitement, and accomplishment.  In short, eustress provides us with an energy boost to perform challenging activities, especially when we need to focus and put in the extra effort. Examples of Eustress would be getting a promotion at work, starting a new job, marriage, or having a child.

Distress on the other hand is a negative form of stress that can fuel feelings of anxiety, discomfort, extreme concern, and even pain.  It is often defined as persistent stress that does not easily resolve itself despite our best efforts.  It can be chronic and debilitating if left unchecked. Examples of distress include death of a loved one, divorce, injury, money problems, or legal problems.  Distress can lead to anxiety, depression, and withdrawal, which are all symptoms of perceived defeat.

Causes of Stress:

Now that we know the different types of stress, let’s discuss the two types of common causes of stress. These are external stressors and internal stressors. External stressors are often the result of something that you can’t necessarily control, such as a major life events including death of a loved one, marital issues, money problems, deadlines, arguments, family concerns, or even a lack of sleep.

Internal stressors on the other hand are caused by our own thoughts or behaviors. These thoughts often come from one’s own psychological mindset or expectations. Internal stressors often play a greater role in the stress of our daily lives.  Common examples of internal stressors are a fear of failure, a lack of uncertainty or control, or even our own failed expectations of life.

Unlike external stressors, we do have the ability to control our own internal stressors, but the bad news is that our fears, attitudes, and expectations have been our companions for a long time and it often takes some effort to change them. The best way to fight off internal stressors include reframing your thoughts, choosing a positive mindset, challenging negative thoughts, using relaxation techniques, and talking with a trusted friend or counselor.

What happens when we’re stressed?

Regardless of whether it’s eustress or distress caused internally or externally, our bodies often respond the same way with fight or flight response.  When you feel threatened, your nervous system responds by releasing a flood of stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol, which rouse the body for emergency action. Your heart pounds faster, muscles tighten, blood pressure rises, breath quickens, and your senses become sharper.  These physical changes increase your strength and stamina, speed up your reaction time, and enhance your focus—preparing you to either fight or flee from the danger at hand.

Signs and symptoms of stress overload:

The most dangerous thing about stress is that it can easily creep up on you. It starts to feel familiar, even normal. You don’t notice how much it’s affecting you, even as it takes a heavy toll. That’s why it’s important to be aware of the common warning signs and symptoms of stress overload. These can be broken down into physical, behavioral, emotional, and cognitive symptoms.

  • Physical Symptoms of stress overload often include aches and pains, diarrhea or constipation, nausea, chest pain, rapid heart rate, breathing changes such as shallow breathing or sighing, sweaty palms, loss of sex drive, and frequent colds or flu.
  • Behavioral symptoms include eating more or less, sleeping too much or too little, withdrawing from others, procrastinating responsibilities, nail biting, rushing or pacing, increased frustration or irritability, and overreacting.
  • Emotional Symptoms include feelings of depression or general unhappiness, anxiety, agitation, moodiness, irritability, anger, feeling overwhelmed, or feelings of loneliness and isolation.
  • Cognitive symptoms include memory problems, an inability to concentrate, forgetfulness, poor judgment, seeing only the negative, anxious or racing thoughts, and a feeling of constant worry.

How much stress is too much?

Because of the widespread damage stress can cause, it’s important to know your own limit. But just how much stress is “too much” differs from person to person. Some people seem to be able to roll with life’s punches, while others tend to crumble in the face of small obstacles or frustrations. Some people even thrive on the excitement of a high-stress lifestyle.

Regardless, long term effects of negative stress can be harmful. While most people bounce back from stressful situations, long term stressors can lead to personality changes, depression, feelings of helpless or hopelessness, becoming impulsive, having over exaggerated fears, development of anxiety and panic attacks, development of cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, headaches and even ulcers.

Handling Stress at Home

Dr. Hans Selye (sell- yeh), the father of stress research, once said, “Time, money, and relationships will ensure that stress will always be with us. Complete freedom from stress is death”.  Knowing this, it’s important that we continually work to find ways to improve our ability to handle stress . Some of those ways include regular exercise, engaging with others, engage your senses, learning to relax, having a healthy diet, and getting plenty of rest. 

Regular Exercise

Upping your activity level is one tactic you can employ right now to help burn off that excessive stress to start feeling better. Regular exercise can lift your mood and serve as a distraction from worries, allowing you to break out of the cycle of negative thoughts that feed stress. Regular exercise keeps your cardiovascular system strong and prepared so that your body can successfully react and cope with stressors. Rhythmic exercises such as walking, running, and swimming are particularly effective.

Engage with others:

Did you know the simple act of talking face-to-face with another individual can trigger hormones that relieve stress, especially when you’re feeling agitated or insecure? Even just a brief exchange of kind words or a friendly look from another human being can calm and soothe the nervous system. Amazing right?  Knowing this, try to spend time with people who improve your mood and don’t let your responsibilities keep you from having a social life. If you don’t have any close relationships, or your relationships are the source of your stress, make it a priority to build stronger and more satisfying connections.

Engage your senses:

Another fast way to relieve stress is by engaging one or more of your senses—sight, sound, taste, smell, touch, or movement. The key is to find the sensory input that works for you. Does listening to an uplifting song make you feel calm? Or smelling ground coffee? Or maybe petting an animal works quickly to make you feel centered? Everyone responds to sensory input a little differently, so experiment to find what works best for you.

Learn to relax:

You can’t completely eliminate stress from your life, but you can control how much it affects you. Relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation, and deep breathing activate the body’s relaxation response, a state of restfulness that is the polar opposite of the stress response. When practiced regularly, these activities can reduce your everyday stress levels and boost feelings of joy and serenity. They also increase your ability to stay calm and collected under pressure.

A Healthy Diet:

The food you eat will greatly improve or worsen your mood and affect your ability to cope with life’s everyday stressors. Eating a diet full of processed and convenience food, refined carbohydrates, and sugary snacks can worsen symptoms of stress, while a diet rich in fresh fruit and vegetables, high-quality protein, and omega-3 fatty acids, can help you better cope with life’s ups and downs.

Get your Rest:

Feeling tired can increase stress by causing you to think irrationally. At the same time, chronic stress can disrupt your sleep. Whether you’re having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep at night, there are plenty of ways to improve your sleep, so you feel less stressed and more productive and emotionally balanced.

Handling Stress at Work:

When it comes to handling stress in the workplace, it’s best to plan at the beginning of each day for potential obstacles that may arise.  After scrambling to get dressed, combating road rage, and gulping down coffee in lieu of a healthy breakfast, many people arrive to work already stressed. This makes them more reactive to stress in the workplace. When you start off the day with planning, good nutrition, and a positive attitude, you might find that the stress of your job rolls off your back more easily. Being overprepared will allow you to process some of those potential stressors should they arise. Some additional tips include getting clarification on requirements, staying away from conflict, being organized, listening to music, and eliminating multitasking from your vocabulary.   Let’s break these down a little more.

Be Clear on the Requirements:

A factor known to contribute to job burnout is unclear requirements for employees. If you don’t know exactly what is expected of you, or if the requirements for your role keep changing with little notice, you might become extremely stressed.  If you find yourself never knowing if what you are doing is enough, it may help to have a talk with your supervisor. You can take the time to go over expectations and discuss strategies for meeting them. This can relieve stress for both of you!

Stay Away From Conflict:

Interpersonal conflict takes a toll on your physical and emotional health. Conflict among co-workers can be difficult to escape, so it’s a good idea to avoid conflict at work as much as you can. Don’t gossip, don’t share too many of your personal opinions about religion and politics, and steer clear of "colorful" office humor. When possible, try to avoid people who don’t work well with others. If conflict finds you anyway, make sure you know how to handle it appropriately.

Stay Organized:

Even if you’re a naturally disorganized person, planning ahead to stay organized can greatly decrease your stress at work. Being organized with your time means less rushing in the morning to avoid being late as well as less hustling to get out at the end of the day. Keeping yourself organized can also mean avoiding the negative effects of clutter and being more efficient with your work.

Forget Multitasking:

Multitasking was once heralded as a fantastic way to maximize one’s time and get more done in a day. However, people eventually began to realize that if they had a phone to their ear and were making calculations at the same time, their speed and accuracy (not to mention sanity) often suffered. There is a certain "frazzled" feeling that comes from splitting your focus and it doesn’t work well for most people.


Listen to Music:

Listening to music offers many benefits and can be an effective way to relieve stress before, during, and after work. Playing an uplifting song while you make breakfast can help you start the day off feeling better prepared to interact with the people in your life. Likewise, combating the stress of a long day with your favorite music on the drive home can help you wind down and feel less stressed when you get there.