Screaming kids, stupid bosses, insane in-laws, frozen traffic, dying laptop batteries: everybody has a few sources of stress in their life. The problem is that our brains and minds are just not very good at distinguishing, emotionally, between seeing a sabre-toothed tiger on the horizon and receiving a high phone bill. One is a threat to our family’s safety, the other is really just an unpleasant surprise, but they can both produce the same kinds of physical, fight or flight responses in our bodies – hormones are released, breathing becomes shallower, muscles tense up, heart rate and blood pressure rise.
A single experience of this type is not the end of the world – it is nearly impossible to die from fright. Some people even enjoy the sensation and go skydiving or see horror movies just for the thrill. When simple fear becomes chronic stress, though – when these experiences occur on a daily basis for an extended period of time – the mental and physical consequences can become severe. Everybody should know what the symptoms of unhealthy stress levels are, and recognize them early enough to pursue treatment in the form of medication, talk therapy or other options. Such therapy is becoming a popular option.
Stress and the Individual
It is obvious enough not to need mentioning that not everyone experiences stress and stressful situations in the same way. Someone who will cheerfully step into a boxing ring might be terrified of public speaking. Personalities also differ in how well they cope with stress. Some individuals seem capable of compartmentalizing the different parts of their life so that they can be highly stressed at one moment but totally relaxed the next. Others are able to breeze through life’s rough patches without missing a beat when most of us will want to give up or at least take a step back.
In fact, stress isn’t always bad. In small enough doses, it can heighten a person’s powers of concentration, boost creativity and provide motivation. It only becomes a problem when it produces anxiety or interferes with a person’s daily tasks, which usually happens when it persists over the long term.
Managing the Sources of Stress
The first step to managing the sources of a person’s stress is to identify which “triggers” affect them most, a task which requires a little introspection and self-honesty. Where these stressors can’t be entirely avoided, it is usually at least possible to control their frequency or intensity, or schedule them at times when they are easier to face.
If trying to bulldoze through rush hour is frequently leaving you out of breath by the time you arrive at work, it might be possible to change your schedule. If a family member is constantly laying their burdens on you, it might be time to discuss some boundaries with them. Of course, making such changes will usually require some effort or sacrifice, and you will occasionally have to say “no” for the sake of your own health.
In many cases, a person’s stress triggers will be internal, either in the form of a mental habit that leads to a state of anxiety, or an association with some traumatic event belonging to the past. In this case, managing stress might best be done by consulting a therapist in order to address these root causes.
What Chronic Stress May Bring with It
Long-term stress, such as that caused by conflicts in the family or a persistently unpleasant work situation, is unpleasant enough in and of itself. It can lead to feelings of anxiety, loss of focus and concentration, and insomnia.
Stress is not just a mental phenomenon but places a strain on the whole body, which means that a person’s immune system will become compromised. At work, the first sign that someone is suffering from excessive stress is often them taking an abnormal number of sick days for seemingly unrelated conditions, such as the flu and stomach upsets. If the problem is not addressed, a loss of judgment, avoidance of responsibility and eventual burnout are likely results.
At home, chronic stress may manifest as increased irritability, drawing away from family members and little to no sex drive. Such a person may have little energy and yet have difficulty sleeping or relaxing. It may also be very difficult for them to explain why they are acting the way they do.
If chronic stress is not managed or treated even after the above symptoms have become apparent, things become truly scary. Further mental health issues such as depression and anxiety disorders may develop, as well as any of a large variety of cardiovascular problems. Skin problems such as eczema may appear in persons who have never suffered from them before, and the digestive system also starts to break down.
Chronic stress can literally kill. If it is not recognized in its early stages, it becomes progressively more difficult to address as time goes on. When a person is beginning to feel overwhelmed, whether at work, at home or in any other context, something as simple as going for a quick run can work miracles.