Stress is a state of tension resulting from demanding or adverse circumstances. It is a normal condition for people to have in order to boost energy and focus our attention.
Whether real or perceived, if we feel under threat in any way a chemical reaction happens inside our bodies that allows us to react in a manner that will help us achieve something or stop us getting hurt. This is most commonly known as the “fight or flight” response.
Everything we need to prepare or protect ourselves is made ready. It increases our heart rate, breathing quickens, blood pressure rises and muscles tighten.
However it is only meant to be a temporary state. When the perceived or actual danger is over and we’ve survived or achieved what was needed we should return to normal.
That means our blood flow will once again resume to the parts of our body that were not needed if we had to fight or flight. Consequently, our digestive and immune systems will return to maximum effectiveness.
However because of a combination of the modern world, our belief systems and our thinking, too many people experience far too much stress – sometimes relentless stress. This can be extremely damaging to mental, emotional and physical wellbeing.
Stress in America
According to the American Psychological Association Stress In America report, 77 percent of Americans regularly experience physical symptoms caused by stress, while 73 percent report negative stress-related psychological impacts.
Our bodies are created to cope with small bursts of stress on a few occasions every so often. But we are not made to deal with long-term stress. So it’s no wonder it causes so many problems.
Stress as a word gives a clue as to why this might be. It is from Middle English stresse meaning “distress”, and partly this derives from Old French estresse meaning “narrowness, oppression”, based on Latin strictus “drawn tight”.
This is why when we are stressed it can feel difficult to breathe or swallow and our muscles and everything about us feels tense. We are uptight.
What are the major signs of stress?
Stress affects everyone in different ways. It also depends on how stressed someone is at any particular moment and for how long they have been stressed.
Stress can cause the following emotional and physical symptoms:
- Low self-esteem
- Inability to focus
- Feelings of being overwhelmed
- Isolation (from avoiding other people)
- Appetite changes
- Obesity and other eating disorders
- Upset stomach
- Frequent illnesses such as colds
- Lack of sexual desire
- Menstrual problems
- Cold sweats
- Hair loss
- General aches, pains and tension
- Rapid heartbeat
- Chest pain
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Heart attacks
- Dry mouth
- Teeth grinding
- Difficulty swallowing
- Tense jaw
- Nail biting
- Skin problems, such as psoriasis and eczema
- Gastrointestinal problems, including gastritis, GERD and irritable colon
- Increased use of alcohol, drugs, or cigarettes, often leading to or worsening addiction issues
What are the best ways to reduce stress?
As stress affects people differently, so too there are different methods to reduce stress. These can all be tried and if you discover some work better than others they are the ones for you to use next time you’re stressed.
Or they can be done when you can sense you might be moving towards a stressed state. Before then too, if you know you might be heading into a situation that might be stressful – such as a work deadline or family gathering – try the ones that work so that you start in the right place.
Some of these methods work as a quick way to stop or reduce stress; others can be put into your daily living as overall ways to a calmer life. Consider lifestyle choices too, such as if you are drinking too much alcohol or coffee, or taking too much on at work or doing too much for other people and not leaving yourself enough time to do things or relax.
Methods to beat stress
- Take slow deep breaths.
- Meditation. Find calm and stillness as an antidote to stress.
- Have a massage, including giving yourself a hand massage as sometimes the tension stops in our hands.
- Listen to relaxing music. Or play some on an instrument. Singing can help too.
- Stretch your body to stretch out tension.
- Have a swim. This is relaxing as well as allowing you to stretch out.
- Spend some time alone to clear your head.
- Watch some comedy.
- Stroke an animal such as a dog or cat.
- Writing down how you feel can help reduce stress.
- Go for a walk, ideally among nature.
- Sit in the sunshine and close your eyes, feel the warmth on your skin.
- Speak with a friend, family member or colleague.
- Tidy your desk, office or house.
- Eat chocolate. Dark chocolate regulates the stress hormone cortisol. Likewise, having a spoonful of honey helps some people to de-stress.
- Do some yoga.