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What is stress?

Stress isn’t always bad. In an ideal scenario, stress helps us stay focused, energetic and alert and charges us by releasing chemicals that give added strength and energy.

Stress helps you meet your deadlines, sharpens your concentration when you’re competing or compels you to study for an exam when you’d rather be watching TV. But when stress becomes overwhelming, it can damage your health, your mood, your productivity, your relationships and your quality of life.

What does stress do to the body?

Both sudden stress and even stress over periods of time can lead to serious health problems. Chronic stress disrupts nearly every system in your body. It can raise blood pressure, suppress the immune system, increase the risk of heart attack and stroke, contribute to infertility, speed up the aging process and leave you vulnerable to mental and emotional problems.

The types of stress

1

Acute stress

This is the most widely experienced form of stress, which comes from demands and pressures of the recent past and those anticipated in the near future. It is your body’s immediate reaction to a new challenge, event or demand. Isolated episodes of acute stress should not have any health effects, but too much can make you feel exhausted.

2

Episodic Stress

Acute stress that is experienced too frequently is called episodic stress. It is the outcome of certain life situations when you take on too much, and can’t adapt yourself to keep pace. Being overly competitive and having an always worried state of mind can result in episodic stress.

3

Chronic Stress

This is the stress of feeling trapped. In other words, if acute stress isn’t resolved and begins to increase or lasts for long periods of time, it becomes chronic stress. This can be detrimental to your health and contribute to several serious diseases or health risks and in severe cases, even suicide.

4

Post-traumatic stress

This is stress associated with traumatic experiences from one’s childhood, wars, poverty, sexual or violent abuse. It results in a feeling of being on the edge and reliving traumatic events through nightmares and flashbacks.

Causes of stress

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to why we get stressed. Each of us reacts differently to situations, and the causes of stress range from external factors like family, career, etc. to our attitude towards life such as negativity and pessimism.

External causes

Major life changes, work or school, relationship difficulties, financial problems, being too busy, children and family

Internal causes

Chronic worry, pessimism, negative self-talk, unrealistic expectations/perfectionism, rigid thinking, lack of flexibility, all-or-nothing attitude

Signs and symptoms of stress

Here are some of the common warning signs and symptoms of stress. The more signs and symptoms you notice in yourself, the closer you may be to stress overload.
Cognitive Symptoms

Cognitive Symptoms

Memory problems

Inability to concentrate

Poor judgment

Seeing only the negative

Anxious or racing thoughts

Constant worrying

Emotional Symptoms

Emotional Symptoms

Moodiness

Irritability or short temper

Agitation, inability to relax

Feeling overwhelmed

Sense of loneliness and isolation

Depression or general unhappiness

Physical Symptoms

Physical Symptoms

Aches and pains

Diarrhoea or constipation

Nausea, dizziness

Chest pain, rapid heartbeat

Loss of sex drive

Frequent colds

Behavioural Symptoms

Behavioural Symptoms

Eating more or less

Sleeping too much or too little

Isolating yourself from others

Procrastinating or neglecting responsibilities

Using alcohol, cigarettes or drugs to relax

Nervous habits (e.g. nail biting, pacing)

quiz-bulb

Recognizing what stress is doing to you is the first step to managing it. Take the quiz to get a better idea of how affected you are by stress.

Take the quiz

DISCLAIMER: This test is merely indicative of the symptoms of stress, and to know if further assessment is warranted. It is by no means a professional diagnosis – for that, you would need to see an appropriately qualified doctor or mental health professional - which you could locate here.

  • How can I help myself?
  • How can I help someone cope with stress?
  • Conditions that coexist with stress

The first step towards helping yourself is becoming aware that you have stress and accepting that it can be managed. Next, try incorporating some of these activities into your daily routine to help you make stress management part of your lifestyle:

Laugh more often

Laughter is indeed the best medicine when it comes to banishing stress. A good, hearty laugh relieves physical tension and stress, leaving your muscles relaxed for up to 45 minutes after.

 

Do something you enjoy

Be it spending some time cuddling your pet, painting, gardening, or simply listening to your favourite songs, enjoying yourself can ease mental tension.

Talk to someone

Talk to people whom you trust and can disclose your darkest fears and feelings. Talk to family or friends who you know will not judge you.

 

Write down your feelings

Write down your thoughts and reflect on things that stress you out. This process will not only give you some space to express your feelings, but also understand the factors that cause stress.

Try yoga, meditation or exercise

A simple 30-minute yoga or exercise session will get the happy hormones flowing and help combat stress.

 

Eat a balanced diet

Try sipping on some green tea, a bowl of salad or bite into some fruit. Fresh fruit and vegetables provide vitamins and minerals that help reduce stress.

Seek help from professionals

If you just don’t seem to be confident about dealing with situations, it’s time to seek help from a professional. Seeking help will help you develop and strengthen your stress management skills.

You know your friend or your family member is stressed and is finding it difficult to cope with it. While seeking help from mental health professionals is necessary, it is also important that you too step in and provide peer support.

Stress can manifest in a number of ways and upon careful deliberation, when you realize that there are strong indicators that your friend or family member is “stressed,” here’s how you can help:

Listen

Sometimes, all that a person who is stressed wants is someone who will hear their story. Take time and listen to what they have to say. Just listen with an open mind and in a non-judgmental way.

 

Use physical gestures

Smiling, holding hands, hugging, lending a shoulder etc. are gestures that help bring down stress levels. Use them to your advantage.

Do some fun activities, together

It would be great if you could offer to join the person in some activity he or she enjoys – it could be early morning walks, enjoying a meal at their favourite restaurant, or going out to watch a play or even going on a trek.

 

Follow-up

Show them that you genuinely care. They might not like it all the times but you need to stay in touch.

Encourage to seek help

Tell the person that it is a good idea to seek help and explain how it is beneficial. It’s better if you can convince the person to take an appointment with a mental health professional and also offer to accompany them

You are here: You are aware that stress is a condition that needs to be treated by a professional, and that there are a number of ways you can help yourself or your friends or family member, depending on who is undergoing stress.

Here’s something more that you should know. While stress impacts the body negatively, in the long term it can lead to several stress-related diseases or complaints. These conditions are likely caused by stress.

Cardiovascular diseases and heart problems

The two most serious stress-related health condition are – increased heart rate and high blood pressure, which in the long run increases the risk of heart attacks and strokes.

 

Inflammation of skin and related conditions

Increased levels of stress hormones can trigger conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, eczema and skin rashes. This altered inflammatory response can also negatively impact the immune system.

Insomnia and sleep problems

Worries that arise due to stress can keep the mind active at most times, and thus people who are stressed find it difficult (sometimes impossible) to sleep.

 

Muscle pain and headaches

Increased levels of stress hormones can cause muscles to tense up and in the long term it can also cause pain, stiffness and headaches.

Digestive problems and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Tummy trouble such as nausea and stomach ache with no medical cause can often be stress related. People who are chronically stressed often complain of a cluster of condition arising from Irritable Bowel Syndrome and is partly stress related.

 

Obesity

When people are stressed they tend to eat inappropriately, especially food that is high in sugar, causing them to gain weight, which further intensifies the stress.

Memory impairment

Over-secretion of stress hormones most frequently can do harm to memory and other basic mental functions. Stress can cause the mind to be overstimulated or distracted, affecting the ability to remember. Stress due to emotional trauma can also lead to memory loss.

 

Depression and anxiety

Feeling unable to cope with stress and continuing to worry all the time can also lead to serious health problems such as depression and anxiety

FAQs

No, stress is not always bad. Sometimes, it can be beneficial and motivating. For instance, during examinations or in work-related scenarios, being stressed motivates us to focus. However, stress can get overwhelming and cause us to react negatively, manifesting in numerous health problems.

Right away! Managing stress is a continuous and daily process, and it’s never too early or too late to make it a lifestyle habit.

Meet a mental health professional. He/She will be able to tell you more about your condition. Though there are a number of ways in which you can help yourself, you will gain the most when you are guided by a mental health professional.

Common signs of stress include becoming easily agitated and moody, feeling overwhelmed with a sense that you are losing control over the situation, experiencing a feeling of worthlessness, and the inability to relax. There could also be strong physical manifestation of these symptoms.

Medicines help when taken for a brief period, but a long term effective solution to cope with stress is to adopt stress relaxation and management techniques.

Though the two words are used interchangeably in everyday conversations, they are not the same. Stress is the body’s reaction to a situation that requires a physical, mental or emotional adjustment or response. It can have both positive and negative impact. Anxiety, by contrast, often comes from a place of fear, uneasiness or worry. While it is common to experience anxiety in our day to day life, it can also manifest itself in the form of panic attacks, phobia, social anxiety and many other related symptoms.

Yes, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t. Use your discretion though.

Are you so alarmed when you visit a physician when you catch a viral fever or break a bone? If the answer is no, then the same applies if you are visiting a mental health professional. You are just taking a professional’s help to get you going.

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