By Maria Lebron, April 2020
At some point, everyone feels stressed. Stress is what you feel when you’re facing a difficult or harmful situation. Each person will experience stress differently. What greatly concerns one person may not have any significant impact on another. Stress can be the result of a minor stressor like a job interview or a major stressor like living in a war zone. A stressor may be a one-time or short-term occurrence, or it can be a chronic situation which occurs over a long period time.
Stressors come up in many different aspects of your life: difficulties at home or with family, problems at school or work, significant life changes, relationship challenges, financial problems, a traumatic event, etc.
Stress is not always harmful. Stress can help you to accomplish tasks, meet goals, and can protect you from getting into situations which could be harmful to you. However, too much stress, especially long-term stress, can take a toll on your health and wear you down emotionally and physically.
The Difference Between Stress and Anxiety
The symptoms of stress and anxiety are similar but there are differences between the two. Stress is your body’s reaction to a demand or challenge. Anxiety is a reaction to stress. Just like stress is a normal part of life, some level of anxiety is to be expected in situations which are unfamiliar or stressful. Stress usually results from external pressures and the stressor is known. Anxiety will usually go away after the stressful situation is over. In some cases, the anxiety can linger even when there is no known stressor or threat and can escalate into an anxiety disorder, the most common mental health issue in the U.S.
How much stress is tolerable differs with each person. Some factors which can help you be more equipped to deal with stress are as follows:
— Having a strong support group of people who you trust and can count on.
— How you view life and its inevitable challenges. If you’re usually hopeful or optimistic, you’ll accept change and challenges as a natural part of life and something which you’ll be able to endure and overcome.
— The more situations you’ve had in your past where you were able to successfully navigate and overcome challenges, the more confidence you’ll have that you’ll be able to get through another difficult situation.
— If you’re aware of what triggers your stress, you may may be able to reduce exposure to the stressor and developing coping strategies.
What Happens To You When You Feel Stressed?
The physical effects of stress usually don’t last long. However, chronic or long-term stress can cause a huge strain on your body and can contribute to serious health problems, such as heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, and other serious illnesses. Chronic or long-term stress can also make you more vulnerable to continued episodes of depression, anxiety, or other mental health problems.
Stress can cause the following physical symptoms:
- low energy
- headaches, migraines
- digestive issues
- muscle tightness or aches
- rapid heartbeat
- sleep disturbances
- lowered immunity
- sexual dysfunction
- reproductive issues
- skin or hair problems
- The emotional responses to stress include the following:
- anxiety, agitation, or frustration
- feeling overwhelmed or out of control
- angers quickly
- difficulty quieting the mind or relaxing
- difficulty focusing, procrastination
- avoiding others, isolation
- moodiness, depression, pessimism, or low self-worth
- appetite disturbances (not eating or overeating)
- increased substance use
How Can You Manage Stress?
Since stress is a natural part of your life, what matters most is how you handle it. If you’re experiencing a long period of stress, it’s time to take action to bring your body back into balance. If you can manage the stress, you may be able to reduce the risk of negative health effects.
Some steps you can take to reduce stress are:
- get regular exercise — even 30 minutes of walking can be beneficial
- reach out to supportive family or friends, especially if you’ve been isolating for a period of time
- meditation or breathing exercises
- engage your senses — sight, sound, taste, smell, touch, or movement
- eat a healthy diet
- rest and sleep
- talk to a mental health professional