What is stress?
Stress is the term used to describe the experience people have when the demands on them, whether internal or external, are greater than their ability to cope. People often feel weighed down under the extreme pressure.
Whilst it is common to think of stress as mental or emotional pressure, it is also important to know that physiological and physical stress exist too. Stress can affect how you feel, think, and behave, as well as your body.
Causes of stress
Situations and pressure that cause stress are known as stressors. It is common to think of stressors as always being negative and unwanted, but many positive and wanted events, such as getting married or buying a new house, can put high demands on you.
Stressors are often divided into two categories: External and Internal. Firstly, and most commonly, external factors which focus on experiences in your environment. These include major life changes, relationship difficulties, financial problems, or a busy schedule. Grief is a major stressor, according to reports, the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale identifies death of a spouse as the number one cause of stress (Source: www.helpguide.org).
The second category is internal stress, which tends to be self-generated, and focuses on excessively worrying and overthinking about something that may or may not happen as well as having irrational negative thoughts about life. Internal stressors often include rigidity, continuous negative self-talk and unrealistic expectations.
The symptoms of stress
Stress can affect how you feel emotionally, mentally, physically, and behaviourally.
Common emotional symptoms may include feeling overwhelmed, irritable, anxious, fearful, and low self-esteem. If stress affects you mentally, you will notice that you are experiencing racing thoughts, constant worrying, difficulty concentrating, and difficulty making decisions. Physically, stress can take a toll on your body causing headaches, muscle tension, dizziness, and sleep and appetite issues.
Additionally, stress can cause you to behave differently to how you usually do. You may notice you are drinking and/or smoking more often, snapping at people and avoiding things or people that you are having problems with.
How to cope with stress
Some types of stress can be easily managed, and some instances can be prevented altogether. So the first step is always to assess the stressors in your life, and see what can be prevented, avoided, dropped and what you are capable of managing well with your coping strategies.
When stressed, or when you are expecting a stressful event, it is important to increase your activity level, as regular exercise is known to have a positive effect on your mood, and energy levels. It may also be useful to take up relaxation techniques, such as yoga, meditation, and mindfulness as this can activate the body’s relaxation response and help you to manage stress.
Additionally, the food you consume can improve or worsen your mood and drastically affect your ability to cope with stress. Eating a diet rich in fresh fruit and vegetables, high in protein and omega 3 gives you an energy boost and helps you better cope with life’s ups and downs.
Engage in ways that help you to improve your sleep so that you feel more productive and emotionally balanced.
If you have been experiencing prolonged symptoms of stress, and it is affecting you on a daily basis, it may be important to speak to someone professional to help evaluate your stressors and increase your coping strategies.
The International Clinic, London, offers a comprehensive team of consultants that specialise in helping you manage your stress. For more information, and to book a consultation, call 0207 467 8548.