Stress is the response we experience when we are faced with a range of demands that may seem overwhelming or be difficult to manage. It is how we react to and cope with these demands or challenges.
Most people think about stress as something bad that happens to them, the stressful event itself. But there’s another area, how your brain reacts to the stressful event, the physiological stress response. When you are exposed to a stressful stimulus, your body releases a hormone called cortisol. If you are under constant exposure to stress hormones, it will affect the immune system as cortisol will tune down the immune system’s ability to fight infection.
Furthermore, you have to perceive the event as stressful in order to react to it. If you don’t perceive it as stressful, you won’t have a stress response. Perception is very important because that’s the part of the stress formula that we can modify with mind-body interventions like exercise. Training regularly helps to attenuate the body’s stress level.
Circumstances that cause stress are called stressors and they could be everyday events such as work responsibilities, traffic jams or caring for your child or major life events such as loss of a loved one, marriage, chronic illnesses or financial difficulties.
Work stress seemed to affect a huge proportion of Singapore working population and in the Hudson Report Q3 2010, across all sectors, 53% of the respondents say that stress levels have risen in the year, compared to 48% when this question was last asked in 2008*.
Physiological stress response is a good thing on a short-term basis, when you need that burst of energy to fight or flee, to get out of danger. That’s why all animals have a stress response. Without it we wouldn’t survive. A little stress can motivate us to think and try harder, encouraging us to achieve our goals. It is when we experience too much stress or stress that goes on for a long time that it can become harmful and negatively affect various aspects of our lives.
It is important to understand that we each have a different limit and experience of stress. Some people may feel frustrated when deadlines approach, while others may thrive only during these stressful periods. Also, different things may be experienced as stressful by one person and not by another.
- Increased or irregular heartbeats
- Tense muscles
- Headaches and migraines
- Aches and pains
- Stomach aches or upsets
- Often feeling anxious or fearful
- Irritability and being easily angered
- Feeling alone
Prolonged period of stress:
- High blood pressure,
- Heart conditions
- Depression, anxiety or other mental health concerns
- Worsening of physical health conditions, e.g., asthma
Ways to deal with stress
While it may not be possible to eliminate all the stresses in your life, you could seek out ways to manage stress in your daily life. Here are some ways that could help you in managing stress. Give yourself time to adjust from one change to another. For example, try to space out major events such as getting married, changing jobs, and moving houses as much as possible to give yourself some time to manage and adjust to different changes in your life. Being more organized and planning in advance can help reduce stress. It gives you an overview of the things you need to do and helps you identify the tasks you need to complete to achieve them. At work, you could plan your day and a make a to-do list and at home, you could have a calendar to mark out family weekends and activities.
In the health and fitness aspect, you can engage in regular physical activity. Not only does regular physical activity keep you physically fit, but it also helps to de-stress and improves your mood. Eating healthy will provide your body with adequate vitamins and minerals to boost your immune system, keeping you strong and healthy. A healthy and balanced diet will also ensure that you have sufficient nourishment to sustain your energy throughout the day.
* Source: Idea Health and Fitness Association