Stress affects both the mind and the body. Stress may affect you positively or negatively depending upon your perception of a situation. You can avoid some stressors but not others. Avoid the stressors you can, and learn to cope with the others. In order to cope, learn and practice stress management skills and establish stress management habits. Effective stress management will balance your daily life.
Signs and Symptoms of Stress
- Pain or tension in neck or shoulders
- Chronic anger, hostility, or frustration
- Nightmares or sleep disturbances
- Recurrent headaches
- Chest pain or heartburn
- Low or lack of motivation
- Inability to concentrate
- Change in eating habits
- Thinking troubled thoughts constantly
- Increased smoking or alcohol consumption
If you are experiencing the signs and symptoms above, seek a medical evaluation from your health care provider to exclude other medical concerns.
If you are confident you are stressed and would like more information about stress and/or stress management, contact the Counseling Center.
What is Stress?
Stress is the wear and tear on your body as you adjust to a continually changing environment. There are both physical and emotional effects of stress that can create positive or negative feelings. Negative effects of stress can include feelings of distrust, rejection, anger, and depression, which can lead to health problems like headache, upset stomach, rash, insomnia, ulcer, high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke. However not all stress is negative. Stress can help compel you to action. It can result in new awareness or exciting new perspectives. You experience stress as you readjust the course of your life when major events such as the death of a loved one, the birth of a child, a job promotion, or a new relationship occur. As you adapt to different circumstances stress will help or hinder you depending on how you react to it.
Positive stress adds anticipation and excitement to life, and everyone thrives under a certain amount of stress. Deadlines, competitions, confrontations, frustrations and sorrows add depth and enrichment to our lives. Learn how to manage stress and how to use it to help you. Insufficient stress may lead to depression that makes you feel bored and dejected. On the other hand, excessive stress may leave you feeling tied up in knots. The key is finding your optimal stress level that will motivate but not overwhelm you.
Each individual’s optimal stress level is different. What distresses someone may energize someone else. The amount of stress you can tolerate before becoming distressed changes with age. Research shows that most illness relates to unrelieved stress. If you experience symptoms of stress, your level of stress is beyond optimal. You need to reduce the stress in your life and improve your ability to manage it.
Symptoms of Stress
- Muscle tension in the neck, shoulders or back. Tension in these areas may cause muscle cramps, headache or backache.
- Insomnia, or trouble falling or staying asleep. The muscle tension, increased heart and breathing rates stress causes can exacerbate insomnia.
- Fatigue (unless physical exertion causes the fatigue)
- Boredom, depression or listlessness. If you are in any of these states constantly you are under stress, which saps your energy.
- Drinking too much alcohol in order to escape problems.
- Eating too much or too little. Compulsive eating can strain the heart, kidneys, and arteries, and can cause self-disgust, a major stressor. Eating too little can signify withdrawal and depression.
- Diarrhea, abdominal cramps, gas or constipation. Spoiled food or viral infection can cause digestive distress, but persistent trouble can indicate stress.
- Palpitations or skipping heart. When you are stressed, your heartbeat increases, causing you to feel palpitations.
- Phobias. Irrational fears, such as fears of enclosed places or heights could signify hidden emotional conflicts that cause stress.
- Tics, restlessness or itching.
- Worry about the symptoms of stress. Any symptom that is unusual for you can indicate stress.
Improving Stress Management
Even if you are aware you have unrelieved stress you have not reduced its harmful effects. There are as many sources of stress as there are possibilities for coping with it. However, managing stress requires the willingness to change the source of your stress or your reaction to it. Below are suggestions for stress management techniques.
Become aware of your stressors and your reactions to them.
- Don’t ignore your distress.
- Determine events that distress you. What are you telling yourself about meaning of these events?
- Determine how your body responds to stress. For example, do you become nervous or physically upset?
- Identify what you can change.
- Can you change your stressors by avoiding or eliminating them?
- Can you reduce their intensity?
- Can you shorten your exposure to stress by taking a break?
- Can you devote the time and energy necessary to making a change? Goal setting, time management techniques, and delayed gratification strategies may help.
Reduce the intensity of your emotional reactions to stress.
- Do you view stressors in exaggerated terms?
- Do you expect to please everyone?
- Are you overreacting? Do you feel you must always prevail in every situation?
- Work at adopting more moderate views. Try to see stress as something you can cope with rather than something that overpowers you.
- Try to temper your emotions. Put the situation in perspective. Do not labor on the negative aspects and the what if’s.
Learn to moderate your physical reactions to stress.
- Concentrate on slow deep breathing to bring your heart rate back to normal.
- Relaxation techniques can reduce muscle tension. Electronic biofeedback can help you gain voluntary control over muscle tension, heart rate, and blood pressure.
- Medications, when prescribed by a physician, can help in the short term in moderating your physical reactions. However, medication alone is not the answer.
- Learning to moderate these reactions on your own is a preferable long-term solution.
Build your physical reserves.
- Exercise for cardiovascular fitness three to four times a week (moderate, prolonged rhythmic exercise is best, such as walking, swimming, cycling, or jogging).
- Eat well-balanced, nutritious meals.
- Maintain your ideal weight.
- Avoid nicotine, excessive caffeine, and other stimulants.
- Mix leisure with work. Take breaks and get away when you can.
- Get enough sleep. Be as consistent with your sleep schedule as possible.
Maintain your emotional reserves.
- Develop some mutually supportive friendships/relationships.
- Pursue realistic meaningful goals, rather than goals others have for you.
- Expect some frustrations, failures, and sorrows.
- Always be kind and gentle with yourself. Be your own friend.