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We will all have experienced stress at some point in our lives, sometimes on a daily basis. Stress is a completely natural response to situations, however it can have really harmful impacts if it is not managed and becomes chronic.
Our body notices whether there is a stressor (a stressor is a situation, or anything, that provokes a release of stress hormones), by taking in the sensory information around us, but also relating the situation to any past events/previous knowledge we may have. Our body then responds to the stressor by releasing hormones to help us react.
Evolutionary scientists would talk about the ‘fight or flight’ response, which is an in the moment response to an immediate threat. This is generally related to a short-term stress response, where the threat is dealt with quickly and the body doesn’t have any long-term impacts from the response.
One important thing to remember is that stress isn’t always bad! Stress can help us out when it is in manageable and small amounts. We can experience good stress, it’s a natural response to a challenging, threatening, difficult or even exciting situation.
Acute stress – ‘Good’ stress is called acute stress, this is an appropriate reaction to a stressor. This stress is short-term, infrequent, and can help us manage the stressor.
Causes for acute stress might be: Needing to hit a deadline; Getting in a fight; Giving a speech, etc.
Acute stress can boost our performance in the moment and motivate us. Once the stress response has done it’s magic and got us through the immediate ‘danger’, ‘threat’, or situation, the body switches off the response so that we can once again relax and continue on as before.
Eustress – Another type of good stress can be called ‘eustress’, which is in response to a more positive stressor such as: Challenging sports/exercise; Going on a roller coaster; Getting married, etc.
Our body would react in the same way as it does when explained in ‘acute stress’, but this is in response to a more positive or thrilling situation.
Chronic (bad) stress – Stress becomes bad when it is chronic, long-term or turns into a disproportionate response. Acute stress can become harmful when our body is having this reaction frequently. Some believe our stress response hasn’t yet evolved to fit modern-day life. Back in prehistoric times, our body would respond to physical threats caused by life-threatening events. Now, we have so many sensory inputs that can be processed as a stressor, from emotional stressors, physical stressors, psycho-social, and even spiritual, leading to the response being a more frequent occurrence.
Causes of chronic stress can be in relation to events such as: Divorce; Difficult and/or abusive relationships; Stressful jobs; Moving house; Death of a loved one, etc.
Long-term stress can put significant strain on our bodies, which can then impact our physical and mental health.
The first step to managing stress is actually knowing when you’re stressed, recognising the different emotional, behavioural, and physical symptoms of chronic stress.
Emotional – Racing thoughts; Feeling nervous or anxious; Feeling irritable; A sense of dread; Losing interest in things.
Behavioural – Worrying about many things; Unable to make decisions; Picking at skin/biting nails; Snapping at people; Being tearful.
Physical – Muscle tension; Panic attacks; Headaches/light headedness/dizziness; Being tired all the time; Clenched jaw.
There are many ways to manage stress. Some will work for you and others will not, so it’s important to try a few things to see what works.
Diet – Addressing diet may be one way to help with stress. Comfort eating can definitely boost mood in the short term but can cause longer term problems and so finding a healthy diet that suits you can help regulate your mood in the long run.
Exercise – Having an exercise routine can be beneficial. Even going for a 10 minute walk has been shown to improve health and mindset.
Mindfulness – Practicing mindfulness can help keep your mind in the present and to disengage with some worries. There are many mindfulness techniques, so if one doesn’t work for you, try having a look at a different technique.
Yoga/meditation – These practices focus on breathing and control of the body and mind, it can help build up a resilience to stress and block out stressors around you.
Therapy/talking – Speaking to someone about what’s going on and having your own safe space to explore this can be useful. There are many types and methods of therapy available, so you do not have to settle for something that does not suit you.
Sleep hygiene – Try to get a routine in place for sleep, find ways to switch off before bed and unplug from the wider world.
Self-care – Make time for yourself! Whether this is through any, all, or some of the above, or things like a hot bath, a long walk, talking to a friend, playing with a pet, watching your favourite TV show, having a sing-a-long to some music, etc.
As mentioned, it may be that only a few of these work for you, but it’s good to try and mix in different ways of managing stress to they can complement each other and keep your well-being in check!
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