What Is Stress?
Stress is the body’s reaction to physical, mental, or emotional pressures. It affects each person differently, and some people may experience physical and emotional symptoms as reactions to stressors.
Everyone experiences stress at one time or another. Anything from everyday responsibilities such as family and work to serious life events such as a medical diagnosis, or the death of a loved one can trigger a stress reaction. In the short-term, stress can be beneficial and can help people cope with potentially serious situations. But chronic stress can cause changes in emotions and behavior as well as physical symptoms that can impact health and well-being.
What Are Symptoms of Stress?
Symptoms of stress may include:
- Feeling wound up
- Feeling over-burdened
- Racing thoughts that won’t stop
- Inability to experience joy
- Disinterest in life
- Loss of sense of humor
- Sense of dread
- Difficulty making decisions
- Avoiding troubling situations
- Snapping at people
- Nail biting
- Skin picking
- Inability to concentrate
- Changes in eating habits (eating too much or too little)
- Increased smoking or drinking alcohol
- Crying or tearfulness
- Shallow breathing or hyperventilation
- Panic attack
- Muscle tension
- Blurred vision or sore eyes
- Sleep problems (insomnia or nightmares)
- Sexual problems
- Teeth grinding or jaw clenching
- Chest pains
- High blood pressure (hypertension)
- Indigestion or heartburn
- Feeling unwell (malaise)
- Suicidal thoughts
- If you or someone you know are in crisis, call the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The service is available to anyone. All calls are confidential. http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org
What Causes Stress?
Stress can be triggered by certain feelings such as:
- Feeling pressured
- Dealing with big life changes
- Lack of control over the outcome of a situation
- Overwhelming responsibilities
Things that can cause the above feelings that trigger stress include everyday events and situations such as:
- Illness or injury
- Loss of a loved one or pet
- Chronic illness
- Everyday tasks such as travel or household chores.
- The breakup of a relationship
- Conflict with family, friends, or coworkers
- Being a caregiver
- Job loss
- Long-term unemployment
- Difficult issues at work
- Housing problems such as poor living conditions, lack of security, or homelessness
- Money concerns
Even some happy situations may cause stress, such as:
- Buying a new home/moving
- Pregnancy and becoming a parent
- A new job
- Planning a big event
The amount of stress an individual feels can depend on different factors such as:
- How a person perceives a situation based on past experiences, self-esteem, and how an individual tends to interpret events
- A person’s experience in dealing with a particular type of pressure
- Emotional resilience to stressful situations
- Other stressors and pressures that are occurring at the time
- The amount of support a person has
How Is Stress Diagnosed?
Stress is not generally a medical diagnosis. It may be diagnosed by a mental health professional with a variety of questions.
Certain types of stress, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are diagnoseable psychiatric conditions that can be diagnosed by a mental health professional. Usually people have to meet certain criteria to receive a diagnosis of a psychiatric illness.
What Is the Treatment for Stress?
For those experiencing stress that affects their everyday life, treatments to reduce stress include:
- Talk therapy
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
- Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR)
- This involves spending time in nature, such as taking walks outside, hiking, gardening, having a picnic, camping
- Complementary and alternative therapies
How Do You Prevent Stress?
It may be possible to prevent some stressors or prevent a stress reaction to common triggers.
- Relax in nature
- Learn positive self-talk
- For example, instead of saying "Everything always goes wrong," say, "I can handle this if I take it one step at a time."
- If you feel stressed, try something that makes you feel happy for 10-15 minutes
- Read a book
- See a friend
- Play with your kids or pets
- Take a walk outside
- Work in the garden
- Take a relaxing bath
- Practice stress reduction techniques
- Deep breathing