What is stress?
Stress is something we all experience. When we talk about being stressed, we are referring to a mental state of worry and anxiety. This is usually a result of being exposed to a stressor (a perceived threat, harm or event).
Stress serves a purpose and isn’t always bad. It can protect us from harm, such as when we need to drive safely in bad weather. It can also motivate us (such as when we need to study for an exam). But stress that is intense and lasts too long can be harmful to our physical and mental health.
Stressors vary in intensity (how severe they are) and duration (how long they last). Daily hassles like heavy traffic are short-term stressors. Meanwhile, life events like losing a job or the death of a loved one are longer-term stressors. Living in poverty or poor housing is also a type of long-term stressor.
The physical effects of stress
Studies have found that intense and sudden stress causes changes in heart rate and breathing, muscle tension and sweating. Long-term stress can lead to high blood pressure, clogged arteries and obesity.
When we experience a stressful event, the brain sends a distress signal to a part of the brain called the hypothalamus. This area of the brain then communicates with the rest of the body through the nervous system, giving us the energy and drive to respond. This is called the fight-or-flight response.
This response is helpful at times, such as when you need to leave a building during a fire alarm. But if the stress response keeps happening even when there is no threat, it can be hard on the body and mind.
How do you know if stress is having a negative impact on your well-being?
Signs of stress include:
- sleep problems
- constant worry
- trouble concentrating
High levels of stress can also cause physical symptoms such as headaches, stomach upset, muscle aches and chest pain. If you’re experiencing these signs, it’s a good idea to see your doctor to rule out any other medical concerns.
Many of the strategies introduced in Well Central’s courses can help you manage stress. You may also want to consider seeking help through counselling. This can help you address the underlying reasons for the stress.
It is helpful to build stress-relieving activities into your everyday life. Use a variety of strategies, including exercise, to manage stress on a regular basis.
Helpful strategies for managing stress
A wide range of activities can help reduce stress and boost well-being. Consider the list below and make note of the ideas that fit for you. Do a few of these activities every day.
Talk it out
Talking about how we feel often provides a sense of relief. Carrying our troubles within ourselves tends to make them more of a burden. If the matter is deeply personal, consider sharing your situation with a trusted friend or with a counselor.
Get active — work it out
Exercise helps to reduce stress and strong emotions. The most effective approach is to make physical activity a part of your daily routine.
Writing things down in a diary or journal is a good way to express emotions, especially when they’re difficult to talk about. You don’t need to be an experienced writer. You could write down thoughts, key words, or even doodle to express yourself.
Mindfulness brings awareness to the present moment. This helps you recognize and acknowledge the emotions you are experiencing. You don’t need to judge them or do anything about them at that moment — just notice them. Being mindful also helps to avoid worrying about the future or focusing on a past you can’t change.
Try to address the root cause of your stress. Take a problem-solving approach to focus on a specific problem that is troubling you. Consider your options, choose one and follow through with a plan to deal with it.
Use creative outlets to soothe stress and strong emotions. This includes things like listening to music, making art, or other hobbies that use your hands and require your focus.
Sometimes we just need a break from our worries and stress. Play games, do puzzles or watch a comedy. These are great ways to lift the spirits and provide some stress relief.
If you have people in your life you are close to, hugs and affection can reduce stress and boost the immune system. When no one is available, it can be soothing to rub some lotion on your hands, or massage your face or neck.
When you are dealing with lots of stress, don’t carry it alone. Reach out to friends, coworkers, family or health professionals to get support.