Stress is a natural human reaction to something scary or upsetting. We’re built to handle it in short bursts. However, we run into issues when stress is on-going. This post explains why and strategies that help break the cycle.
5 Key Things You Need to Know About Stress
We use the word “stress” so often, that it’s hard to figure out what it actually means.
Here is a quick and easy to understand explanation of what stress is, why it happens, and what you can do to feel better.
Stress is the body’s natural response to a scary situation.
- Your “fight or flight” response kicks in to prepare you to run for your life or fight to protect yourself.
- This response is great for a short-term situation in which you need a blast of energy. Stress becomes a problem when it’s chronic because your brain and body don’t get the break they need to recover.
A stress response is made up of 2 parts:
- Physical: You feel stress in your body. Symptoms you might feel include fast heartbeat, nausea, quick breathing, dizziness, muscle tension, and trouble sleeping. Your immune system will also take a hit and you’re more likely to get sick.
- Thoughts and feelings: Stress impacts how our brain works and how we think. We can have racing thoughts, thinking about the worst-case scenario, worrying, looking for answers, and seeking reassurance.
Anything in your environment that causes these physical and psychological symptoms is called a stressor.
- People, situations, and anything around us that make us feel threatened (e.g., noise, too many people, deadlines) are considered stressors.
How much you believe in yourself impacts how you deal with stress.
- The more you feel confident in your ability to handle challenges, the less stress you’ll feel in most situations. You trust your ability to figure it out and bounce back.
- The more insecure you feel, the harder it will be to cope with stress. Since you don’t trust you can handle the situation, you feel more helpless. This leads to a stronger stress response and more symptoms.
It’s normal to feel stress during both positive and negative life events.
- Examples of positive events that cause stress include having a baby, starting a job, or moving to your dream house.
- Examples of negative events that cause stress include getting bad news about your health, losing a job, or moving away from a home and neighborhood you love.
- Change, whether good or bad, is hard for most of us. We love our habits and routines, even if they’re less than great. Having to change is scary because it means we have to adjust what we’re used to.
Next steps for dealing with stress
Now you know what stress is. It’s unavoidable and is part of everyone’s life. What matters is how you choose to deal with stressful events and the uncomfortable feelings that happen during and after the event.
Here are four steps you can take to improve your chances of dealing well with stress as it’s happening and then bounce back better:
- Keep tabs on what causes a stress response so that you can prepare for the situation ahead of time.
- If you’re feeling stressed, remind yourself it’s a normal response to both positive and negative events.
- To help relieve stress, try healthy activities such as exercise, journaling, deep breathing, and spending time with friends.
- If the stress doesn’t let up and starts to impact more of your life, consider talking to a mental health professional. The sooner you work through the issue, the better off you’ll be in the short and long term.
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Bucks County Anxiety Center