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Stress is a natural reaction of the human body to any kind of demand or challenge. It can have adverse effects on an individual’s physical and psychological well-being.

What Is Stress?

Stress is a human emotion associated with physical and emotional tension, nervousness, frustration and anger. It is how our body responds when not being able to deal with specific demands and challenges. It often occurs when people experience various changes in their lives. Any significant situation or thought that poses a perceived threat to one’s well-being and makes one feel sad or frustrated can cause stress. Similarly, anything that causes a state of strain or tension is known as a stressor. The compensatory responses to the stressors are known as stress responses.

A 2017 study 1 defines this feeling as “Any intrinsic or extrinsic stimulus that evokes a biological response”. It can trigger or aggravate several psychological diseases and conditions. The stressful feeling increases when a person is unable to deal with the challenging situation at hand. Every single person feels stressed at some point in their life. According to a 2008 study, stress can become a chronic psychological condition if not treated appropriately. Despite being harmful, a stress response is also essential for our survival and even has some positive effects 2. It keeps a person alert, motivated, and prepared to avoid any kind of danger. If the chronic feeling lasts for a long time and starts to affect your daily activities, you should consider it as a matter of concern.

Understanding stressors

A stressor can be any significant life-changing situation or event that triggers people’s stress responses. A 2005 study 3 claims, “A stressor is believed to have a major influence upon an individual’s mood, sense of well-being, behavior, and overall health.” The severity of the physical and psychological effects solely depends on the type of stressors. The following are the three most common stressors:

  • Routine stressors are related to the pressures of work, academic performance, family issues, or any daily responsibilities.
  • Sudden disruptive changes include events like losing a job, divorce, or severe illness.
  • Significant events involve a major accident, assault, environmental disaster, or war where one’s life may be in jeopardy.

Such traumatic experiences may lead to temporarily distressing emotional and physical symptoms. All these situations work as a stressor that significantly contributes to developing stress-related symptoms. These responses prepare us to confront a potentially challenging situation. That’s why stress is also referred to as our body’s natural defense mechanism 4 against predators, threats, or danger.

Stress At A Glance

  1. Stress is how our body reacts when not being able to deal with certain difficult challenges and situations.
  2. It stimulates our body to release stress hormones that help us to confront danger.
  3. Significant life events along with some external and internal factors can cause stress-related symptoms.
  4. People may experience various emotional, cognitive, physical, and behavioral symptoms when dealing with stress.
  5. Psychotherapy and medication are extremely effective in treating this mental condition.
  6. Regular exercise, a healthy diet, meditation, and other stress-management techniques can help one to deal with emotional pressure better.

How Stress Affects Us

When we feel stressed, our body reacts to it by releasing stress hormones 5 which increase our pulse, cause muscle tension, fasten breathing, and make our brain more alert. These functional changes prepare us for handling stressful situations. All humans experience certain physical responses while facing a threat or challenge. The human body triggers several resources that help a person to either confront the threat or flee the situation. This entire process is referred to as the fight-or-flight 6 response.

According to a 2009 research 7, chronic stress during infancy, childhood, or adolescence changes certain brain structures that are involved in cognition and mental health. This condition often leads to several cognitive differences and the intensity of the changes largely depends on the stress level and its duration. Chronic stress affects us in several ways, it can cause a few severe psychological conditions, such as:

severe psychological conditions

1. Depression

Stress is considered to be one of the most common causes of depression and several depressive symptoms. A 2009 research 8 suggests that stress-induced depression is potentially a common subtype of depression. It shows that prolonged exposure to cortisol, a stress hormone, often contributes to the development of depression.

2. Anxiety disorder

Studies 9 have found that people who have experienced trauma or stressful events in the past tend to develop anxiety disorders. Changes in lifestyle or health issues are also associated with stress and lead to the onset of anxiety.

3. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

PTSD refers to a mental health condition triggered by different stressful experiences. A 2006 study 10 reveals that traumatic stress is associated with increased cortisol that is one of the contributing factors in developing PTSD.

Read More About Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) Here

Symptoms Of Stress

Symptoms Of Stress

This feeling can cause numerous emotional and behavioral symptoms, along with various significant physical effects. The symptoms vary from mild to severe. According to a 1998 research, the following are some of the common symptoms that you can experience when suffering from chronic stress:

1. Emotional and mental symptoms

  • Fatigue 11
  • Forgetfulness 12
  • Irritability, moodiness, anger
  • General unhappiness
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Insecurity 13
  • Loneliness and isolation
  • Restlessness
  • Anxiety and agitation 14
  • Lack of motivation 15
  • Frustration
  • Anxiety 16
  • Depression 17
  • Sadness
  • Panic attacks 18
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) 19

2. Cognitive symptoms

  • Memory problem 20
  • Concentration issues
  • Negative perspective 21
  • Anxious thoughts 22
  • Constant worrying 23
  • Poor judgment 24
  • Trouble thinking clearly
  • Loss of objectivity
  • Fearful anticipation 25

3. Behavioral symptoms

  • Social withdrawal 26
  • Procrastination 27
  • Substance use for relaxation 28
  • Nail biting, teeth grinding, jaw clenching 29
  • Overdoing activities 30
  • Picking unnecessary fights
  • Overreacting
  • Engaging in illegal activities
  • Frequent crying
  • Frequent angry outbursts
  • Sexual problems 31

4. Physical effects

  • Extreme food cravings and appetite changes 32
  • Sleeping disorder 33
  • Diarrhea and other stomach problems 34
  • Frequent body aches and pain 35
  • Chest pain and rapid heart rate 36
  • Headache and dizziness 37
  • High blood pressure 38
  • Lower immunity 4
  • Decreased sex drive 39
  • Frequent colds and flu 40
  • Excessive sweating 41
  • Digestive issues 42
  • Frequent sickness
  • Skin rashes 43
  • Insomnia 44
  • Weight gain or loss 45

Read More About Anxiety Here

Types Of Stress

Types Of Stress

All kinds of stress are not harmful or don’t even have any negative effects. It can be categorized into two different types. The primary two types include:

1. Acute stress

It refers to an intense and unpleasant feeling that one may experience after a traumatic event. Individuals can also experience this emotion 46 while attempting something new and exciting. People often experience acute stress in their day-to-day life. It helps them to deal with various challenging situations and is not as harmful as chronic stress is.

2. Chronic stress

This kind of stress stays longer than the acute type and is very harmful to one’s psychological, physical, and emotional well-being. An unhappy married life, losing a job, poverty, abusive parents are some causes that can be certain contributing factors in developing such severe stress-related problems. Research shows that it can increase the risk of stroke, heart attack, self-injury, or suicidal behaviors.

There are two other types of stress that one can experience, such as:

  • Episodic acute stress occurs in several episodes. Over time, it becomes a part of one’s daily life or creates a life of never-ending distress.
  • Eustress is a kind of positive emotional distress 47 that keeps people energized and motivated. It triggers one’s desire to work harder to achieve their respective goals.

Causes Of Stress

Causes Of Stress

The causes of stress largely depend on the person as what is stressful for one may not be stressful for another. There is no actual reason why people feel stressed, but a 2010 research paper 48 mentions that certain mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety can increase the stress level in some people. Here are some of the probable internal and external factors that can lead to stress –

1. Academic pressure

A 2015 research paper 49 suggests that excessive academic pressure on students can cause several psychological stress-related problems, such as depression, anxiety, and nervousness. It eventually creates a negative impact on their academic performance.

2. Financial problems

Life situations leading to financial issues such as losing a job, retirement, or unemployment can also lead to severe stressful reactions. Research 50that financial problems can take a huge toll on someone’s psychological and physical well-being.

3. Family problems and relationship issues

Family problems can have adverse effects on the family member’s mental health as it can make them feel insecure. Research 51 shows that family members may experience certain stress-related problems due to repetitive arguments or lack of communication in the family. Relationship problems 52 , including arguments, lack of sexual intimacy, or adultery also play the active role of stressors.

4. Work-life problems

Every person experiences various work-related problems at some point in their life. Lower productivity, lack of appreciation, extreme workload, partiality, harassment, and bullying are some of the most common work-related 53 causes that lead to extreme stress.

Other factors that can lead to the onset of this mental condition include:

  • Retirement 54
  • Marriage or separation 55
  • Death of a loved one 56
  • Pregnancy loss or having a baby 57
  • Excessive noise or overcrowding 58
  • Major life changes 59
  • Uncertainty 60
  • Rigid and negative thought process 61
  • Perfectionism 62
  • Unrealistic expectations 63
  • Attitude and personality issues
  • Pessimism 64
  • Lack of flexibility
  • Self-criticism or low-esteem 65
  • Excessive anger 66

When To See A Doctor

According to a 2011 study 67 , one should consult with a health care professional if experiencing the following:

  • Panic attacks
  • Dizziness and rapid breathing
  • Unable to perform daily activities
  • Inability to work or study
  • Phobia or fear
  • Repeated thoughts of traumatic events

One should seek immediate help from a mental health professional whenever feeling overwhelmed by stress.

Read More About Phobia Here

Diagnosis Of Stress

Stress is considered a subjective phenomenon that cannot be measured by any kind of psychotherapy or medical tests. Only the sufferer can determine the existence and severity of stress. A mental health specialist may ask specific questions to diagnose the symptoms and understand how it is affecting someone. It is extremely difficult to diagnose stress as it involves several significant factors. A 2002 research 68 has shown that the diagnosis process includes:

  • Questionnaires
  • Biochemical measures
  • Psychological measures

In certain instances, these diagnosis processes may not be effective. The most effective and direct way to diagnose stress is a comprehensive and face-to-face interview under professional supervision.

Treatments For Stress

Treatments For Stress

As stress is not a distinct psychological disorder, there is no specific treatment available for it. Developing stress-coping skills is believed to be more effective than any other medical treatment. But a few treatments may be helpful in treating certain stress-related conditions, such as:

1. Psychotherapy

A mental health professional may recommend certain forms of therapies for the treatment of severe stress. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and Mindful-based stress reduction (MBSR) 69 are the two most helpful psychotherapies for treating the symptoms.

A. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)

CBT 70 helps the sufferer to identify and change negative thinking patterns that often develop because of psychological stress. It helps sufferers to find new ways of thinking that reduce the impacts of stressors.

B. Mindful-based stress reduction (MBSR)

MBSR 71enables the sufferers to practice meditation and mindfulness techniques for reducing stress levels. This therapy promotes mindfulness practice as an effective method for reducing stress.

2. Medication

No medicine is generally prescribed for treating stress unless the stress is developed by any underlying illness. A doctor may prescribe certain medications to address some stress-related symptoms. The medication may include:

  • Antacid
  • Sleeping aids
  • Anti-anxiety medicines
  • Antidepressants

Read More About Antidepressants Here

3. Alternative medication

Besides medicines, there are several helpful alternative medications that reduce stress-related symptoms. These include –

  • Aromatherapy 72 can reduce stress-related symptoms, relaxes the mind and body, and decreases the level of stress hormones.
  • Yoga 73 lowers blood pressure level and heart rate that are extremely beneficial for stress relief.
  • Acupuncture 74 stimulates our body’s feel-good hormones like dopamine and reduces the level of stress hormones like cortisol.

How To Manage Stress

How To Manage Stress

Though stress is unavoidable, stress-management techniques are considered extremely beneficial for coping with stress. These techniques reduce the adverse impacts and help the sufferer to live a healthy life.

Here are some most effective ways to manage stress:

1. Exercise

A 2019 research paper 75 has revealed that physical exercise helps one to reduce memory impairment in subjects with stress. It promotes better sleep that is associated with reducing stress symptoms. A 1984 study 76 shows that exercise improves our mood as well as lessens pain.

2. Avoid substance use

People often believe that they can escape from stressful feelings by consuming drugs and alcohol. But research 77 clearly indicates that these substances can make the condition worse. Avoiding substances can help you to better manage stress in a healthy way.

3. Practice self-care

Including self-care activities in your daily routine will help you in managing stress better. Learn to care for your mind and body and find how you can live a happy life.

4. Diet and sleep

A balanced diet with a proper amount of fresh fruits and vegetables helps one to boost their immune system when experiencing stress-related symptoms. Make sure to add salmon 78 , chamomile 79, dark chocolate 80 , and turmeric 81 to your diet to reduce stress-related symptoms. You should also practice good sleep hygiene to improve sleep quality as proper sleep 82 is very essential for stress management.

5. Meditation and mindfulness practice

A 2015 study 83 has revealed that meditation, yoga, breathing exercise, and other mindfulness practices immensely help relieve symptoms associated with stress. These practices relax our minds and reduce the negative effects of excessive emotional pressure and anxiety.

Read More About Meditation Here

6. Spend more time with loved ones

Studies 84 have shown that sharing your feelings with your loved ones and spending time with them helps in reducing the feelings of isolation. Your close ones may suggest unexpected and effective solutions to cope with your issues. They even can provide emotional support as well.

Cope With Stress

Stress is a natural response of our body that we experience when not able to deal with certain life challenges. Unmanaged stress has adverse effects on people’s physical and psychological well-being. One can experience several emotional, physical, cognitive, and behavioral symptoms due to extreme emotional pressure. Though there are not any particular treatments for this psychological condition, some stress-management techniques can help one to manage the adverse symptoms.

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