We all have that person in our lives that makes things more difficult, turns bad situations into worse ones, and takes a toll on our health. It may not be so much a person as it is a feeling. That feeling is stress. If most of us could have a nickel for every time we are stressed, we might not be so stressed anymore. Unfortunately, stress tends to follow us through our professional and personal lives. It could be as quick as someone cutting you off in traffic or more long-term due to a sick friend.
In addition to the typical stressors that show up daily, there is a movement of “grinding” until you make it within the professional world. So many professionals on social platforms chalk up success to working non-stop, regardless of stress, and wearing it as a badge of honor. This is similar to kids showing off scars to their friends, taking in the “oohs” and “aahs” of admiration. Stress is detrimental to your health, and there is even a national day to take time to reduce that stress.
National Stress Awareness Day
National Stress Awareness Day is celebrated on the first Wednesday of every November and is a day-long event to remind people to take a break and relax. Wednesday was picked as it tends to be one of the most stressful workweek days, second behind Monday. Having National Stress Awareness Day on a workday also highlights how stress management can result in healthier and better-performing employees.
Carole Spiers, the International Stress Management Association (ISMA) chairperson, founded this day. Her idea was to make people more aware of stress and what they can do to manage it in their personal and professional lives. Carole’s organization, ISMA, is a registered charity and a leader in workplace and personal stress management, supporting good mental health, well-being, and performance through sound knowledge and best practice, nationally and internationally. ISMA has been helping people manage stress for the last 30 years, having worked with over 40,000 people.
What Even is Stress?
Stress is such a common phrase that often anything that upsets our daily groove will get labeled stressful. While sometimes this may be accurate, certain types of “stress” exist. Further, there is even a type of stress that does not harm people and their health. There are three types of negative stress:
- Acute Stress: Acute stress can be brought on rapidly and is short-term. This stress is typically negative but can be positive on some occasions. Think of acute stress as the daily stressful situations during your normal day-to-day activities.
- Chronic Stress: Opposite of acute stress, chronic stress is stress that seems never-ending or has no way out of it. Examples can include being in an abusive marriage or working at a job you hate but cannot quit. Additionally, chronic stress can come from traumatic experiences from earlier in your life, like the loss of a loved one or a childhood trauma.
- Episodic Acute Stress: Episodic acute stress combines the first two on our list. While these stressful situations are sporadic and short-lived, they continuously happen to the person over long periods. This creates ongoing distress like that of chronic stress.
We are very familiar with stress these days, so you are probably wondering what that “positive” stress was we hinted at before. The good stress is known as eustress. Eustress is the type of stress we experience when doing something fun and exciting. Do you ever get a rush when you take the lead in a game? How about that natural shot of adrenaline when you are at the last mile of a marathon? These are the results of eustress. This stress can help when focus and motivation are needed to complete a task.
The Many, Many Effects of Stress
Let’s start with the good stress, eustress. Some of the benefits of eustress include:
- Help you concentrate and focus.
- Encourage you to take on new challenges.
- Motivate you to pursue your goals.
- Help you feel more resilient in the face of challenges.
- Give meaning and purpose to your life.
- Help you to feel healthier and happier.
It is hard to believe that stress can provide these benefits, but if you think hard about the times you needed that extra “oomph” or did something even though you were scared or anxious, you might remember that feeling that pushed you to do it.
If we take out eustress, we find that the other stress types tend to negatively affect people physically and mentally.
Musculoskeletal System: Quite often, you will notice that when you are stressed, your muscles tense up in your back, shoulders, and other areas. Yes, these two are related. Stress causes muscles to tense up, preparing for some injury or pain. This is a natural reaction from the body. Long-term stress can result in chronic muscle tension in the neck, back, shoulders, and head, leading to tension and migraine headaches, as well as lower back issues.
Respiratory System: The respiratory system, which provides oxygen to our bodies, is another bodily system affected by stress. When people are stressed, the airways between the nose and lungs constrict. This can result in rapid breathing (making up for being unable to take in as much air per breath) and shortness of breath. People with a healthy respiratory system can recover quickly; however, those with existing respiratory diseases could have more trouble recovering. In situations with high-stress levels, hyperventilation from panic attacks and even asthma attacks could occur.
Cardiovascular System: Acute and chronic stress can majorly impact a person’s cardiovascular system. Acute stress will cause the heart to beat more rapidly, releasing the stress hormones adrenaline, noradrenaline, and cortisol. To deliver these hormones where needed throughout the body quickly, the blood vessels will dilate to increase blood flow and raise blood pressure. Once the acute stress is gone, the body will return to normal.
Chronic stress or a long-term stressful situation will cause the same issues as acute stress but over a long time. Having high blood pressure and heartbeat increases the risk of hypertension, heart attack, or stroke. Chronic stress may also cause circulatory system inflammation and is one pathway that is thought to tie stress to heart attacks.
Gastrointestinal System: Stress can affect your gut health by triggering pain, bloating, and other discomfort. Stress also affects the bacteria in your gut, influencing your mood. A person with large amounts of stress early in their life can change the development of their gut nervous system and possibly have gut disease or dysfunction later in life. Several other adverse effects include:
- Increased eating or smoking
- Esophagus spasms
- Bowel issues
Nervous System: The nervous system connects into all the previously mentioned bodily systems and has the same adverse effects of stress already discussed. One additional result is that long-term or chronic stress on the nervous system will cause a lot of wear and tear on the human body, which can cause problems later in life.
Our Mental State: The mental effects of stress are just as impactful as the physical effects discussed. The most common mental effects of stress include:
- Feelings of fear, shock, anger, sadness, worry, numbness, or frustration
- Changes in appetite, energy, desires, and interests
- Difficulty sleeping or nightmares, concentrating, and making decisions
- Physical reactions, such as headaches, body pains, stomach problems, and skin rashes
- Worsening of chronic health problems
- Worsening of mental health conditions
- Increased use of tobacco, alcohol, and other substances
It’s clear that I need to relax, but how?
It is simpler than you think. The easiest method is to take a break and remove yourself from the situation. This may only be done after the stressor starts, but ensure you find time to take a walk, go to a quiet place, or do an activity you enjoy. Removing your mindset from the situation will push the stressful event away and return you to a normal state.
If you find yourself stressed over events around you that are out of your control (e.g., politics, wars, etc.), it is good to unplug from those sources of distress. With technology providing us a constant stream of information, for better or worse, it is sometimes hard to remember that we can turn it off. Removing yourself from the negativity in the news will help relieve your stress, and your body will feel better.
Beyond avoiding stressors, a person can also care for their body to help them handle and recover quicker from stressful situations. Activities can include exercising, making better food choices for a more balanced diet, and sleeping better. Like any activity that requires training, preparing your body to fight and handle stress is very important for your success.
The last option to add to your stress-fighting repertoire is connecting with your community or faith-based organizations. Being around others and finding common ground to talk and have fun with will relieve stress. You may even find tips from others on handling stress that works for your situation.
No matter how you decide to tackle stress, it is vital that you find a way to handle it. Stress can cause numerous physical and mental ailments, some of which can eventually result in death. Everyone has a lot on their plate these days, and with information moving at the speed of light, it is sometimes easy to forget that we can take a step back, collect our thoughts, and let stress get the best of us.