What we know about stress
Stress: types, medical and psychological perspectives, plus management methods
What is stress, really? How exactly does science describe it? What are the signs and consequences? Can it be managed? In this article, we are trying to find the answer to all these questions. Continue reading then.
This article includes:
What is stress?
Stress can be considered simply the opposite of relaxation. It is a medical term for a wide range of powerful external stimuli that can be both psychological and physiological.
Stress may appear in two opposing forms: negative and positive (yes, we do have positive stress). Negative stress is called distress and is the result of negative events. Positive stress is called eustress and is obviously the result of positive events.
Thus, both positive and negative events can lead to stress. For example, if your lovely pet dies and you win the lottery, one does not cancel another; both events will form stress in your mind and body.
Stress can directly or indirectly generate general or particular disorders in one’s body and mind. The phenomenon may have serious effects on the physical and psychological functions of the human body. We will elaborate on the signs later in this article.
Stress from a medical point of view
In the realm of medical science, stress is defined as a physical, emotional, or mental disorder that generates tension in the body or mind. It is an intricate reaction of two systems: neurologic and endocrinologic systems.
The source of stress can be either internal or external. The reasons for internal stress might include environmental, social, or psychological situations. Regarding external stress, illness or types of medical procedures can cause the disorder.
During a stressful event, catecholamine hormones in the body, including adrenaline and noradrenaline hormones, can pave the way for physical reactions, which may lead to violent muscular tensions. Below are some examples:
- Heart rate may accelerate
- Lung action pace may accelerate
- Paling or flushing may occur
- Stomach and upper-intestinal duties may stop, leading to cessation or deceleration of digestion process
- Sphincters of the body are affected
- Blood vessels may constrict or dilate
- Nutrients such as fat and glucose are liberated for muscular actions
- Lacrimal gland (which produces tears) and salivation may stop working
- Pupil may dilate
- Erection may be inhibited
- Hearing and auditory capabilities may be compromised, leading to loss of hearing
- Tunnel vision may occur and peripheral vision is lost
- Spinal reflexes may disinhibit
- Shaking occurs
Stress, if neglected, can be the preliminary cause for various medical conditions including psychological ones such as depression and anxiety. Apart from that, stress can cause the following diseases:
- High blood pressure
- Bowel related diseases
- Poor healing
- Many other diseases
Stress management is, most of the time, the answer to prohibit the potential diseases. It includes pharmacologic and nonpharmacologic approaches.
Stress from a psychological point of view
The preliminary concepts of stress were deeply focused on its physical properties. Later, the concept of stress was completed to concentrate thoroughly on the effects of psychological factors on it.
From a psychological perspective, stress can be described as a feeling of strain and pressure. It is a kind of a pain in psychology. Stress in psychology usually includes experiencing negative pressures such as anxiety. It commonly happens when people feel they do not have enough personal resources to meet situational demands appropriately.
The emotional and psychological signs of stress include the following:
- Anger, irritation, and restlessness
- Sleeping disorders
- Feeling disappointed and confused
- Constant worrying
- Lack of concentration
- Memory problems
- Inability to make the right decisions
- Fear of stressor
Various definitions of stress
Numerous scientists and psychologists have defined stress in their specific terms. It was Hans Selye who, for the first time, psychologically defined the term stress in 1936. He defined it this way: “stress is the non-specific response of the body to any demand for change.”
Selye’s definition of stress was too general and rather murky. Since then, There have been many definitions to stress, mostly failed to define “stress” well.
One of the definitions of stress, expressed by Professor Steptoe, puts it this way: “when the necessities related to a type of activity are beyond social and personal abilities of an individual, the resulting responses are called stress.”
Regarding this definition, there are some points which are worth reviewing:
Point 1: the perception of stress might be different for different individuals. For example, someone who has just received their driving license may find driving a stressful process even in short distances, whereas an experienced driver can do the job with relatively no stress whatsoever. As a result, judging the existence of stress requires to be in the shoes of the individual who is experiencing it.
Point 2: in this definition, the individual’s responses to external stimulants have not been considered. These responses may also be different for different persons. Some can be detected, while some might be undetectable.
Point 3: today’s life is more stressful than in the past. The fact is that the more capabilities and qualities a situation requires us to have, the more likely we are to be stressed. For example these days, you have to learn skills you did not know 2 decades ago and didn’t have to know then.
Point 4: the perception of stress in different situations is directly proportional to the perception of our skills and abilities. This means that when we are able to do something and trust ourselves to act upon it, the likelihood of facing stress while doing the job can dramatically reduce.
Stress: good or bad?
Everyone knows that the common concept of stress carries a negative connotation; however, stress can be sometimes beneficial too. Hans Selye (1974) noticed that not all stress is harmful. He explained that it can sometimes be positive, as it can coerce us into doing things that can enhance the quality of our lives. Selye used the term “eustress” to define positive stress. It comes from the Greek word “eu” which means good.
Let us clarify the positive stress or eustress using some examples. Positive stress can force you to study for your exams, visit your doctor on a more regular basis, exercise more frequently, or do the best of your capabilities at work. These are true as long as your stress level is moderate, not very high.
Eustress is concurrent with positive feelings, health, and strong performance. In challenging situations also, moderate stress can act as a driving force for the good. For example, stress can push an athlete forward and make them energized.
Most forms of stress are negative. Hans Selye refers to this type of stress as “distress.” It comes from the Latin word “di” which means bad. If someone’s level of stress soars too high, it starts to affect them negatively. In fact, we can sort stress by its severity into three phases:
Low to moderate stress: this amount of stress is not normally harmful. It is a subcategory of eustress, to be specific. In this phase, stress usually enhances people’s performance for their good.
Optimal stress: if the severity of stress reaches an optimal level (not maximum level), so does the person’s performance quality. A player at this point, for example, is fully energized and highly concentrated. He or she can do their job with minimum effort and maximum efficiency.
Excessive stress: when someone’s stress severity goes beyond its optimal level, they are actually in distress mode. It starts to negatively influence them. People may feel exhausted, frustrated, and even burned out in this phase. Consequently, the quality of their performance noticeably decline. Excessive stress may ultimately lead to dangerous physical or mental injuries and needs to be seriously managed.
Techniques to manage stress
Prior to exploring some of the most useful methods to manage stress, let us review the meaning of stress management. Stress management is defined as the techniques that one may use to deal efficiently with stress in their lives by analyzing the stressors and performing positively to curtail the effects of stress as much as possible.
Stress management techniques can be categorized into three parts:
- Practical: people try to change the stressful situation in this phase.
- Emotional: people try to change the way they perceive the stressful situation in this phase.
- Acceptance: people try to deal with stressful situations that are beyond their control.
We are going to give some methods for each of these three categories below.
Switch off all of your devices. Let the chaos in your head slow down. Allocate time to quietness. Remember that recharging your mind is an effective method to tackle stress.
You need to loudly call for what you need. Explain what is bothering you. The key to effectively do that is to say it in a firm, fair, yet respectful manner. Once you do so, you can stand up and alter your stressful situation.
Consider time management
Your days vanish easily if you let them go. Before even you notice, your time flies. Then, you need to prioritize and organize your daily tasks in order to enjoy them and as a result, avoid stressful days.
Set personal boundaries
By creating boundaries, you define some personal rules and red lines for yourself. The boundaries determine your dos and don’ts. This way, you will know how much space you need from others.
You do not have to cope with all of the stressful thoughts attacking your head. Give yourself and your head a break. Distraction might be the answer. Watch a movie, meet a friend, or do anything pleasant that might take your mind off the stressful things.
This one has been scientifically proven. Thinking about positive experiences makes your brain perceive them to be realities. Therefore, it is highly recommended that you abandon your negative thoughts and replace them with positive ones.
Cognitive restructuring is a technique developed by Dr. Albert Ellis in the mid-1950s. CR is a process of learning to detect and dispute irrational or maladaptive thoughts known as cognitive distortions. In other words, in this technique, you can understand negative emotions and challenge the incorrect beliefs causing them.
The ABC method
The A, B, and C respectively stand for Adversity, Beliefs, and Consequences. Many people face adversities in their lives. What is crucial is how they manage it. Those who are optimistic are much more prone to tackle the adversities and prevent them from turning into beliefs. If life adversities turn into your beliefs, they will eventually have bad consequences. Staying optimistic can prohibit this process; you should not let every failure make you believe you are unable to succeed.
Exercise more, and go on a diet
There is no need to mention these two. Exercising is a proven method to devastate your stress all the way down. Apart from that, do not belittle the power of a healthy diet. You are what you eat, as they say.
Meditation-related approaches can, without a doubt, relieve your stress. Techniques such as deep breathing, guided visualizations, yoga, and so on can relax your body to a high extent.
Resilience is defined as the ability to revert from stressful or negative experiences to normality. Recipient people can more easily accept what has happened, learn from it, and get stronger.
Pour everything out
Do not let all your worries and things getting you down remain inside your thoughts. Share them with others to halve them. You will find most of those worries much less worrisome when shared with a friend. If you hate sharing, writing them down can do the trick.
I hereby announce the easiest, sweetest method to manage stress: sleeping. Getting a full night’s sleep can refresh and recharge your mind. It will make you free of the stressful event you have been dealing with the whole day. Keep in mind that 8 hours of sleep is recommended for a healthy adult every day.
Stress, if neglected, can have devastating consequences; but, the good news is that it is not always bad. It is good to know that we can benefit from the energy stress generates for our own good. Although the word itself gives birth to stress in your thoughts, it is not the monster you have made of it. That is why many techniques have been discovered to manage stress. If you cannot benefit from stress, at least you can use one of the techniques explained above to control it. Practice the methods to control the severity of your stress inside the low-to-optimal range. That is how you can use it effectively for your well-being.
Have you ever been in a highly stressful situation? Write about it in the comments below, and narrate how you faced/tackled the issue.
About Sanan Sanani
Co-founder and CEO of Sanani Holding Ltd and Sterling Property Advisors.
Sanan Sanani is an entrepreneur, a savvy businessman and self-proclaimed workaholic who loves to stay busy and make clients happy.