Emotional and Mental Health

Stress

Written by Dr. K Sneha and medically reviewed by Suresh Kumar G D

 
Image: Stress

Contents


What Is Stress?

Stress is the body’s normal response to any stimuli. It is the feeling of emotional or physical tension. Everybody gets stressed at some point in their life, which is rational and also helpful to perform under pressure. But, prolonged periods of stress is not good and might have adverse effects on the health. People experience stress from their environment, their body, and their thoughts. Positive life changes also produce stress, which keeps us alert, motivated, and ready to avoid danger.

Typically, stress should be temporary. Once the body’s normal fight or flight phase, the heartbeat, and breathing should come back to normal, and the muscles should relax. It should only take a short time for the body to return to the natural state.

In this modern fast-paced world, stress is inevitable. Those who are able to manage stress better will be healthier and more successful in their life. Continuous periods of stress with no relief in the middle can result in distress, which can disturb the body’s internal balance or equilibrium. This results in symptoms like headaches, stomach upset, high blood pressure, chest pain, sexual problems, and sleep disturbances. This might also lead to severe mental problems like depression, panic attacks, and other forms of anxiety. Stress is also the leading cause of heart diseases, cancer, lung diseases, accidents, liver cirrhosis, and suicide.

What Causes Stress?

The causes can be divided into external and internal causes.

External Causes:

  • Natural or manmade disaster.
  • Major life changes.
  • Work problems.
  • Financial issues.
  • Family problems.
  • Relationship issues.
  • Work overload.
  • Being a victim of some crime.
  • Life-threatening accident or illness survivor.
  • Unhappy marriage.

Internal Causes:

  • A tendency to believe the worst.
  • Rigid and inflexible thinking.
  • Unrealistic expectations.
  • Low self-esteem.
  • Negativity.

What Are the Types of Stress?

There are three types of stress:

  • Acute Stress - Stress that lasts for a short-term. This type of stress helps you manage dangerous situations and keeps you alert.

  • Episodic Acute Stress - Frequent episodes of acute stress.

  • Chronic Stress - Stress that lasts for a more extended period. If you do not manage such stress, it might cause health problems.

What Is Fight-Or-Flight Response?

It is also called acute stress response. During acute stress, there is a sudden release of hormones, which activates the body’s sympathetic nervous system. The adrenal glands are in turn stimulated by the sympathetic nervous system, and they release adrenaline and noradrenaline. This results in rapid breathing, flushed skin, dilated pupil, and trembling. This prepares your body to either flee or flight the situation. So the stress created in such a life-threatening situation is crucial for survival.

What Are the Symptoms and Effects of Stress?

Too much stress can cause cognitive, emotional, physical, and behavioral symptoms.

Cognitive Symptoms:

  • Problems with memory.
  • Difficulty concentrating.
  • Bad judgment.
  • Anxious thoughts.
  • Worrying all the time.

Emotional Symptoms:

  • Anxiety.
  • Irritability.
  • Constant anger.
  • Mood changes.
  • Feeling lonely.

Physical Symptoms:

  • Chronic pain.
  • Fatigue.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Obesity.
  • Heart diseases.
  • Diarrhea or constipation.
  • Nausea.
  • Stress ulcer.
  • Dizziness.
  • Low libido.

Behavioral Symptoms:

  • Eating too much or too little.
  • Too much or too little sleeping.
  • Being isolated.
  • Neglecting one’s responsibilities.

How Much Stress Is Too Much?

Different people handle stress differently. Some people seem to be doing well in spite of all the challenges life throws at them, while a few people fall apart in the face of small obstacles. Every individual handles stress differently, so no fixed level of stress can be said too much for an individual. Some factors influence the tolerance level of stress, which are:

  • Strong support from family and friends.

  • Self-confidence.

  • Optimistic and hopeful outlook on life.

  • Control over your emotions.

  • Being prepared mentally for any stressful situation.

How to Manage Stress?

It is not possible to get rid of stress completely, as said earlier, it can be useful in some situation. To manage stress, firstly, you have to identify the cause of your stress. Find out what triggers cause your stress, and try to avoid or eliminate them. If they cannot be avoided, then think of ways to overcome these triggers.

Here are a few tips to help you manage stress and lead a better life:

  • Be positive and know that everything has a solution.
  • Maintain a healthy and balanced diet.
  • Sleep for 7 to 8 hours daily.
  • Instead of getting angry and defensive, be assertive.
  • Exercise for at least 30 minutes every day.
  • Reduce the consumption of caffeinated drinks and alcohol.
  • Perform relaxation techniques like yoga and meditation.
  • Accept the fact that there are a few things that you cannot control.
  • Spend quality time with your friends, relatives, and family members. Strong relationships have a protective effect against stress.
  • Take out time for your hobbies and interests. Avoid spending too much time watching TV, computers, and develop more outdoor activities.

How Can a Psychiatrist Help Relieve Stress?

If you are unable to cope with stress even after trying stress management tips, it is best you consult a psychiatrist. Depending on the severity of symptoms and cause, the psychiatrist might suggest the following treatments:

Psychotherapy - It is also called talk therapy. It helps to understand your thought process and triggers by talking to a psychiatrist. Some types of psychotherapy are cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), interpersonal therapy (IP), dialectical behavior therapy, supportive therapy, and psychoanalysis.

Medications - The psychiatrist might prescribe sleeping pills or antidepressants or antianxiety medications if needed.

As there is no way to prevent traumatic situations, there are no preventive measures for stress. But by eating healthy, meditating, and regular physical exercise, you will be able to handle stress better. Always get medical attention if you feel that stress and anxiety have started to affect your health and well-being.

Last reviewed at: 05.Feb.2019

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