What Is Stress?
Stress comes as a natural part of life. It can be emotional, mental, or physical. In reasonable amounts, stress is harmless. In fact, it can even help motivate people to perform better. A healthy level of stress causes the muscles and the mind to respond at a faster speed. But when too much stress develops or the stress lasts for too long, it can cause significant mental and physical health problems.
Stress itself refers to the feelings of pressure that come from a situation. Stress can come from both internal and external sources. All people deal with stress on a daily basis to some extent, but it can become a minor or major health problem depending on the kind of stress and the length of time you must deal with it.
Causes for Stress
Stress can come from any number of sources. The primary causes are known as stressors, and these can include challenges, health problems, worries, lack of sleep, hormonal imbalances, perceived problems, social pressure, anxiety, and more. Anything that causes discomfort can cause stress. Chronic stress and its symptoms develop when stress remains and the body has no opportunity to rest or repair itself. A healthy level of stress is one that allows you to reach your best potential and then ends, giving your mind and body time to recuperate and restore.
Bear in mind that just because something may not be stressful to someone else does not mean it isn’t stressful for you. Each person is different and everyone perceives and manifests stress in different ways. The causes for stress are highly individualized. While certain events tend to cause more stress generally, you must pay attention to your own situation and realize that it could be causing stress problems, even if others seem fine with it.
Symptoms of Stress
Stress appears in a variety of ways that differ from person to person. Some of the most common symptoms of early stress include increases in blood pressure, increases in breathing rate, muscle tension, and a slowing of the metabolism. As the stress continues, additional symptoms can manifest, including:
- Weight gain
- Sleep loss
- Muscle pain
- Digestive issues
- Muscle spasms
Hair loss, vision loss, and ridged nails also tend to appear as symptoms of prolonged stress. Certain disorders and medical conditions such as fibromyalgia, eczema, heart attacks, and the like have been linked to stress. While stress does not necessarily cause these conditions, it does worsen them and increases a person’s likelihood of having stress-related medical conditions. According to Medical News Today, high and untreated stress levels can even increase overall cancer and tumor aggressiveness.
While most chronic disorders are disorders that last for six months or longer, chronic stress problems tend to develop much more quickly. According to Web MD, the more serious conditions of chronic stress such as insomnia, slowed metabolism, muscles spasms, and cramps can occur within a matter of days if the situation is stressful enough. You should not wait until your symptoms have lasted for a prolonged time. You need to visit a professional as soon as it becomes clear that you are suffering from more serious symptoms.
Seeking Help for Stress
Stress should not be left unattended after chronic stress symptoms start to appear. Depending on the kind of symptoms you manifest, you will need to either meet with a medical professional and/or a therapist. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms listed above, begin by visiting your doctor. They will be able to rule out any other causes and can discuss the types of stressors in your life.
In the case of either a medical doctor or a therapist, they will assist you in uncovering the causes for the stress and identifying the primary stressors. In most cases, the next stage involves developing a customized plan for addressing the problems and eliminating the stressors. Psychotherapy is a popular method for most emotional and mental based stress issues. In therapy, a person will examine the deeper issues in their lives that could be contributing to their stress, such as toxic relationships, internal pressure from negative-self talk, or unresolved conflicts.
Sometimes a doctor must be brought in to address issues such as heart palpitations, sleeplessness, and other physical symptoms. Remember that the effects from stress are cumulative, meaning that failure to address them can cause greater and deeper health problems in the long run.
Compartmentalizing Your Stress
One of the most effective ways of dealing with stress is to separate areas of stress by compartmentalizing. This means learning to set boundaries and focus on one thing at a time. For people with chronic stress, some days can seem so overwhelming that it’s hard to cope with daily responsibilities, focus, or think clearly. Everyone experiences these intense feelings of stress from time to time and we have all had days where stressors make it feel difficult to just make it through the day.
With the stress of fast paced lives, family issues, working, and the pressures of everyday life, many people can feel like they’re drowning in a sea of stress. It often feels like there is no escape from the stress and there is no obvious solution for eliminating the stressors that are causing problems.
Therapists and doctors agree that order to maintain health and happiness, individuals must try to separate areas of stress and learn how to use the tool of compartmentalizing. The question becomes how to separate everything and do it effectively to reduce your stress, which is a process your doctor or your therapist will guide you through. Some of the techniques used for learning to compartmentalize include:
People who suffer from chronic stress are encouraged to be aware of the parts of their life that are causing them stress and think of each area as a compartment. To keep the mind from overflowing and losing focus, try not to let thoughts jump back and forth from one area to the next. When a person can take control of their thoughts, they can make decisions without the influence of the other areas of stress. For example, if a person is stressed about their finances as well as taking care of an elderly parent, they should try to think about one of those things at a time. They can set aside some time to work on a budget or doing financial planning and focus just on that task. When thoughts about other areas of stress pop up, they can gently remind themselves to deal with one thing at a time and allow permission to think about being a caregiver later.
Lighten the load
For many people the reason for their stress is that they just have too much to do. In today’s fast paced society many people get caught up in trying to “do it all” and they may feel like a failure if they can’t keep up with maintaining all the tasks they take on, on top of their everyday responsibilities. If you struggle with chronic stress, it’s important to step back and assess the areas of your life where you can reduce the burden. Talking to coworkers and family members about adjusting the way your workload is divided to see if there are ways to lighten your load and reduce some of the stress in your life. Limit the number of new tasks or roles you volunteer to taken on and ask yourself if you really have the time for them before you commit to new projects.
Sometimes it seems impossible not to multitask when a person’s plate is filled with responsibilities. Unfortunately, though, multitasking is not as effective as we think. Recent studies have shown evidence that the human brain is meant to focus on one thing at a time, and multitasking creates stress and make us less efficient. By splitting our thoughts and our attention into multiple tasks, we are not seeing the benefits we want and instead can be causing more stress in our lives than if we focused on one task or project at a time.
Transitioning gives us relief from focusing on our responsibilities. It allows us to put behind a source of stress and enjoy the non-stressful parts of the day. Rather than letting thoughts and actions flow from one activity right into the next, recognize your pattern of thought and make it a priority to take before switching to a new task. People who suffer from chronic stress are encouraged to cleanse the mind in between activities by doing something simple and distracting like taking a walk, doing a puzzle, or simply sitting down for a few minutes so they can wipe the slate clean before moving on to the next thing. Taking breaks allows the body and mind to rest in between tasks and gives a person a much-needed break from a stressful day. Even if a person is very busy, a few minutes of solitude can be highly beneficial to reducing stress.
One of the best ways to begin compartmentalization is to write down a plan. As simple as this sounds, taking out a pad of paper and a pen is one of the last things we tend to do when we are stressed. To reduce stress, list each of the parts of your life that is causing stress or worry. For each point of stress, write a goal. Once you have determined the goal, write down each step that you need to take to reduce your stress and achieve that goal. No matter how simple, obvious or mundane the step may seem, write it down. This helps to take what seems like an insurmountable task and breaks it down into smaller, more manageable pieces that aren’t as daunting.
For example, if a particular project is causing stress at work, write down what it is and the steps you need to take to complete it successfully. An important part of planning is to find ways to reward yourself when you do reach the goal. A recent study suggests that a plan and reward system may be the most effective stress-relief mechanism.
Learning how to compartmentalize your stress is not easy. Many people seek professional help from trained therapists or psychiatrists to help them learn how to do this effectively. It takes practice to recognize the destructive thought patterns and actions that contribute to stress.
Why Seek Therapy for Stress?
Since stress is something that everyone experiences, many people believe that they should be able to cope with it on their own, but some people need more assistance than they can provide to themselves. Professional help from a therapist can be highly beneficial in giving people an outlet to talk about their stress, learning to identify the main causes of stress in their lives, and learning how to incorporate tools for reducing stress into their everyday activities.
Treatment Options for Stress Therapy
Psychotherapy – This type of therapy takes place with a psychologist, psychiatrist, or other mental health professional. In psychotherapy, people are encouraged to discover the underlying causes of their stress so they can learn strategies for improving their quality of life.
Behavior Therapy – There are several types of behavioral therapy. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is one of the most ways to deal with stress. In CBT, people are taught to recognize and change negative thought patterns and apply different tools to help them improve their negative-self talk to be more positive. For relieving stress, this means people can learn to be less hard on themselves and to recognize that it’s ok to reduce some of their burden without seeing themselves as a failure.
Alternative Therapies – In addition to traditional methods of stress therapy, there are many things that an individual can do to alleviate their stress. Activities like exercise, yoga, acupuncture, massage, meditation, and social support are all useful tools to try if a person is faced with intense feelings of stress or pressure.
Find a Therapist for Help with Stress
With treatment, people can learn to relieve their stress and live more enjoyable lives. Search TherapyTribe for a psychologist or mental health counselor specializing in stress. TherapyTribe can connect individuals with therapists online or to professionals located near where they live.