What is stress?

Stress refers to a disturbance of the body’s natural rhythms. This typically occurs in response to either positive or negative environmental changes, that an individual perceives as beyond their control. 

Everyone will experience stress throughout their lives, however at certain levels, stress can become harmful if it is not appropriately addressed.

How does stress work?

Physiological changes occur when an individual is confronted with stressors, perceived challenges or dangerous situations. Specifically, our ‘flight or fight instinct’ is activated, preparing us to deal with the threat. These changes can include:

  • Changes to blood flow
  • Increased heart rate
  • Faster breathing
  • Muscle tightening
  • Increased blood pressure. 

Whilst in the short term these changes can help us deal with a stressor, long term stress can negatively affect the body and mind.

Types of stress

Acute stress

This is the most common form of stress. It arises from pressure that is either expected or has recently been experienced. It is usually relatively brief and has limited long term effects on mental and physical health. Common examples include being late to work, experiencing a car incident, or public speaking. 

Episodic acute stress

Episodic acute stress occurs when an individual frequently suffers from acute stress. Individuals who are prone to this type of stress can be categorized into two groups:

  1. Individuals with a stressful lifestyle
  2. Anxious individuals 

Chronic stress

Chronic stress is caused by constantly being exposed to stressful situations, or from perceiving one’s typical environment as threatening. Chronic stress can be internalised, which means one can learn how to live around it and may slowly forget that this pressure is there. 

Consequences of stress

The consequences of long-term stress include:

  1. An increase in depressive symptoms, major depressive disorder, substance abuse and alcohol dependence
  1. Health problems such as:
  • headaches
  • heart disease
  • high blood pressure
  • muscle pain
  • stomach
  • gut and bowel problems
  • disrupted sleep  

Remember that in the short term, stress can sometimes be beneficial and helpful to a certain extent. It only becomes hazardous to our health when it is not properly managed and is ongoing.

Ways to Manage Stress

Learning to manage it is important so it does not become overwhelming and debilitating. This takes some practice.

Here are some ways that can help you get started.

  1. Relaxation techniques 
  2. Identifying the stressors in your life
  3. Time management
  4. Lifestyle changes
  • Get adequate sleep
  • Exercise
  • Avoid or reduce caffeine, sugar, alcohol, drugs and nicotine consumption  

To read more about ways to manage stress, click here.