People often say ‘I am stressed out’ almost as if it were a knee jerk reaction, especially when they are facing some kind of challenge. But is that really stress? How can you tell if you are really stressed? Which symptoms should you be looking out for and how can you cope with this situation?
Before delving into the more complex aspects of stress, it is important to define the condition. Stress is a feeling of emotional tension that leads the person to feel overwhelmed or unable to cope. The reaction of this emotional tension or pressure has physical ramifications as well.
People have different thresholds for what they can each handle emotionally. Therefore, stress is not a diagnosable condition. A mental health professional will not be able to tell you that you are suffering from stress.
Situations or stimuli that might cause one person to feel stressed, might not have the same effect on a different individual. Likewise, some people know how to handle emotional tension or pressure better than others. These individuals might feel stressed, but they will be able to manage the pressure better than others who might feel as stressed under the same circumstances but lack the coping mechanisms.
Why does stress manifest itself physically?
To understand how emotional pressure can have physical ramifications, it is important to know why and how the body can produce a physical reaction to stress:
- Sudden changes, tough challenges, and other such stressors trigger a hormonal reaction
- This reaction evolved from what the body needs to deal with sudden danger, like the appearance of a predator
- As the body reacts to this emotional state, the production of cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine increases
The result of the secretion of these hormones is:
- An elevated heart rate
- Heightened alertness – could affect sleep
- Higher blood pressure
- Increased muscle preparedness
- Decreased immune activity
Stress is not necessarily bad. It allows us to react quickly to certain situations and find safety, making it an essential tool for survival. The problem comes when the stressors – what makes you feel stressed – do not go away.
Modern life is full of ubiquitous stressors like:
- Financial uncertainty
- Social media pressure
- Overwhelming amounts of information to process
- Work related pressure
These and other stressors that are always present in our lives can throw us into a situation of prolonged stress. This is where a mechanism that evolved to help us solve sudden, critical problems, can create long-term physical deterioration. Stress could even be a factor in some acute health issues, like heart attacks. Just imagine a situation in which your body experiences prolonged high blood pressure, elevated heart rate, and decreased immune activity. Anyone could tell you that these conditions will result in long term health issues.
Prolonged stress and subsequent health issues
As stress builds and persists, it can lead to various manifestations of mental health conditions such as:
- Anxiety disorders, such as generalized anxiety disorder
- Panic disorder
- Stress can also precipitate – not cause – disorders a patient might be predisposed to, like OCD
What causes stress?
Given that stress is such a subjective condition, the stressors that cause the condition will vary from person to person. Even positive experiences like the birth of child, can cause stress in some individuals. These situations that might put pressure on certain individuals, are also the result of a lack of coping mechanisms.
How to cope with stress?
Coping mechanisms when it comes to stress, are surprisingly universal, even when the stressors are so particular or subjective. The following are some of the most widely recommended coping mechanisms to deal with stress:
- Engage in physical activity – exercise can relieve stress
- Meditate – especially if you can learn how to control your breathing. This can help you regulate your heart rate as well
- Emphasize sleeping well – not only how long you sleep for but how comfortable you are when you sleep. Quality sleep is key
- Invest some time in figuring out what your priorities are and how you can improve your decision-making process – you cannot get to every single thing on your to do list immediately
- Spend more time with family and friends in a positive environment
- Laughter can also reduce stress levels
There are also some unhealthy coping mechanisms that could worsen your health. These are the ones to avoid when you are stressed:
- Drinking – it might feel well in the short term, but it is a harmful coping mechanism. Engage in the social activity that generally comes with drinking, without consuming alcohol
- Smoking – also a source of immediate relief because of nicotine, which is very harmful in the long term
- Drug use – much like the previous two points, it is extremely harmful and does not provide long term stress relief
- Chewing or other obsessive behaviors – these could lead to long term damage. Better to exercise
- Taking it out on someone else – some people get angry when they are stressed. Anger can alienate the people who could help you relieve your stress in a positive manner
Is there any kind of stress medication I can take?
When the coping mechanisms mentioned above do not work, and we consider those we should avoid, it is possible to see a pattern developing: some people will inevitably seek relief in prescription medication. In some cases, stress can get out of hand and an individual might need some help from a therapist. Therapy could come together with a prescription for anxiety medication – indeed, prolonged stress could generate anxiety.
There are no medications for targeting stress per se, but when stress leads to depression, anxiety or other mental health conditions, our doctors here at Antidote Health can help you find the right medications to treat these conditions safely and effectively.
Our healthcare professionals here at AntidoteHealth can help you when you start developing other conditions due to stress, even if you need a prescription. We also offer live and interactive online webinars where you can learn about effective stress-management techniques. Talk with us today and allow us to help you develop the kind of stress coping mechanisms you deserve.