What is Stress?

Stress is any uncomfortable emotional experience accompanied by predictable biochemical, physiological and behavioural changes. Today, stress is one of the most common mental health problems across the world – in fact, research states that one in every five people experiences high levels of stress.

 

IS STRESS ALWAYS A BAD THING?

In the right quantity, stress can actually be good for us. When faced with challenges, or with important but unexciting tasks – for example, exams or work deadlines, a certain amount of stress can give us a much-needed boost of motivation that helps us see the task through. It’s when the stress crosses over to an extreme that we need to be careful, as this can result in a number of undesirable physical, emotional and behavioural health-related consequences.

WHAT CAUSES STRESS?

It’s important to note, that stress is entirely personal. What one person considers exciting or enjoyable, another person may consider highly stressful, and vice versa. What further complicates matters is that we aren’t always aware of what is causing stress within us – it could happen that an otherwise pleasant event, such as a wedding, a new baby in the family, or a new job, is responsible for increases in one’s stress levels.

Situations or life events that we typically find stressful are characterised as being:

Again, the extent to which we find them stressful differs from person to person. However, by and large, stressful life events can be categorised as follows:

LIFE EVENTS AND STRESS

 
Low
 
Change in schools / work hours / working conditions
Change in recreation / social activities
Small mortgage or loan
Change in sleeping /eating habits
Holidays
 
Moderate
 
Family arguments
Big mortgage or loan
Change in responsibilities at work
Trouble with boss/ in-laws
Change in living conditions / personal habits
 
 
High
 
Marital reconciliation
Retirement /change of job
Death/serious illness of family member or friend
Pregnancy / new child in the family
Sex difficulties
 
Very High
 
Death of spouse
Divorce or marital separation
Death of close family member
Personal injury or illness
Marriage
Loss of job
Moving house

AM I STRESSED?

 
Emotions during stress
- I feel anxious, tense and unable to relax
- I feel mentally drained
- I feel irritable a lot of the time
- I often feel angry or frustrated
- I often blame myself for things going wrong
- I feel self-conscious
- I don’t like myself very much anymore
 
Thoughts during stress
- I worry about things I know I shouldn’t worry about
- I’m unable to concentrate on or complete tasks
- I find it difficult to relax my mind
- I feel easily confused
- I find It more difficult to make decisions thank usual
- I get startled very easily
- I don’t feel motivated to do anything
- I feel like I don’t have control over anything
 
 
Behaviors during stress:
- I avoid activities or places because I worry that I won’t be able to cope
- I find myself unable to sit peacefully
- I make more mistakes than before
- I find myself avoiding responsibility
- I drink/smoke more than I probably should
- I eat a lot more/a lot less than I did before
- I’ve become more tearful
- I find myself complaining a lot of the time
Bodily reactions during stress:
- I feel drained of energy
- My heart rate has increased
- I’ve lost/put on a lot of weight
- I have frequent headaches
- My breathing pattern changes when I’m tense
- I find it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep
- I’m experiencing frequent stomach problems
- My muscles feel weak and I experience trembling
 
 

HOW CAN I MANAGE STRESS?

Once you have identified that you are stressed, there are several ways of dealing with it. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, or CBT, is a proven action-oriented approach for managing stress which talks about the strong relationship that exists between our thoughts, behaviours and our emotions. CBT emphasises the importance of recognising unhelpful and often faulty ways of thinking that affect our feelings and behaviors, and then changing these thoughts, thereby reducing stress.Read more about CBT here.

Are you experiencing difficulty dealing with stress?