Like anger, stress is a normal part of even the healthiest person. It can, however, become so intense that it interferes with someone’s quality of life. Patients with an unhealthy amount of stress need to learn coping mechanisms via an intervention commonly referred to as “stress management.”
Stress can affect your health. It is important to pay attention to how you deal with minor and major stressors, so you know when to seek help.
Stress in Everyday Life
Stress is a natural part of life. Our lives are challenging and undeniably stressful. There are times when stress can seem too much or overwhelming. In addition, there are other moments where it can serve as a motivator. Maybe your intent is to achieve a goal at work. You want to impress your boss, and the stress you’re under pushes you to perform and do well. However, there are times when stress isn’t helpful and can have a negative effect on your wellbeing. It can impact your health, relationships, career and family life. When we’re experiencing a stressful time, we can take our anxiety out on our loved ones. But, we don’t have to engage in that behavior if we learn to manage our stress appropriately.
We are wired to fight stress. When we’re stressed, our nervous system releases cortisol, a stress hormone. From there, we jump into “fight or flight” mode. Your heart rate rises, Your large arteries expand, your digestions slows down, and you may start to sweat as your body prepares to defend you against a potential threat. The body’s biological response to stress is to fight it. It wants to protect you. That’s why hormones are propelled into action and tell your body that something dangerous is happening. Your body and mind typically recover from short-term episodes of stress. However, if you’re exposed to long-term instances of stress you’ll start to see a decline in your health.
Types of Stress
Stress can be acute, chronic or episodic, and individuals can experience multiple forms of this disorder. In all types of stress, the stress is so intense that it interferes with the person’s quality of life. Any type of stress can lead to physical distress, as well, including weight loss, insomnia, and even heart pain.
Acute Stress Disorder
Acute stress is the most common form of stress. It comes from demands and pressures of the recent past and anticipated demands and pressures of the near future. Acute stress is thrilling and exciting in small doses, but too much is exhausting. A fast run down a challenging ski slope, for example, is exhilarating early in the day. That same ski run late in the day is taxing and wearing. Skiing beyond your limits can lead to falls and broken bones. By the same token, overdoing on short-term stress can lead to psychological distress, tension headaches, upset stomach and other symptoms.
Episodic Acute Stress Disorder
We are all familiar with the Type A personality. This person is driven and holds themselves to what seems an impossibly high standard. This personality type often develops what is known as an episodic acute stress disorder in which they have larger than life reactions to triggers. While these reactions are acute and intense as in acute stress disorder, a patient with episodic acute stress disorder is triggered by very different things.
It is common for people with acute stress reactions to be over aroused, short-tempered, irritable, anxious and tense. Often, they describe themselves as having “a lot of nervous energy.” Always in a hurry, they tend to be abrupt, and sometimes their irritability comes across as hostility. Interpersonal relationships deteriorate rapidly when others respond with real hostility. The workplace becomes a very stressful place for them.
Chronic Stress Disorder
Chronic stress happens in response to long-term triggers, such as a chronic illness in the family. It also elevates the levels of cortisol and adrenaline in the body. This physical reaction can leave the patient unable to relax or even sleep. Eventually, the patient may also develop an anxiety disorder.
Signs of chronic stress vary, but they can include:
- Extreme irritability that may not be characteristic of the individual
- Faulty concentration
- Low self-esteem
- Frequent headaches
- Loss of appetite
- Feelings of helplessness or losing control
One of the best ways to manage stress is to seek the help of a licensed mental health professional. Seeing a therapist or counselor can help people cope with stress. In therapy, a person who is dealing with chronic stress can learn coping strategies such as relaxation techniques, mindfulness, and deep breathing. An individual dealing with stress can talk about how chronic stress is impacting their family life and relationships. A counselor is trained to teach people ways to cope with stressors and show them how best to deal with the challenges life brings. Stress doesn’t have to break you. You can seek help from a mental health professional.