Understanding Stress for its better management

Understanding stress

STRESS is such a trendy word used these days, isn’t it! “I’m not able to submit my presentation on time, my boss is so angry with me…uff…so much of stress in this job!”
“These daily traffic snarls are so stressful!” 
“So much of homework these days. My kids are under a lot of stress…”
…and the list goes on.

But what really is stress?

The term “stress”, as it is currently used was coined by Hans Selye in 1936, who defined it as “the non-specific response of the body to any demand for change”. In simpler terms, stress is the body’s way of responding to any kind of change (or threat).

Our body has an autonomous system which gets triggered every time it senses a threat or danger. This is called the “Fight or Flight response” or “Stress Response”. It is necessary for survival. Thus, a little stress is always good and encouraging. This is what keeps you on your toes!

stress make you workIt is stress that encourages and pushes you to complete your projects on time when you would rather choose to spend the evening in front of the TV. Stress makes you study for your exams instead of playing the whole day. It also helps you concentrate and push your body to the maximum extent possible so that you win your game.

But beyond a certain point, stress ceases to be helpful and starts ruining your efficiency, productivity, health, relationships and overall quality of life.

A consistent feeling of pressure in your mind, frequent episodes of dizziness due to tension, anxiety attacks etc., are all signs of stress taking a toll over you and a need to manage it has arrived.

Understanding Stress

Before you learn to relieve stress, it is very important to understand stress well.

Knowing your stressors

Knowing your stress triggers is the primary requirement for the reduction of stress in life. A trigger can be anything that activates higher levels of stress, tensions and anxiety in you, may or may not be directly related. It is highly subjective and varies from individual to individual. However, it may not really be the actual cause of worry.

Examples of Common Triggers

The most common triggers in the present time are:

  • Work: Boss’s tantrums, work politics, project deadlines, presentations etc.
  • Money: It is like a “motichoor ka ladoo”…You know what I mean!
  • Health
  • Family issues & interpersonal relationships
  • Traffic snarls (yes! this is quite common these days)
  • Time constraints
  • Uncertainty: Human mind always loves to know what’s coming next, which is practically impossible.
  • General ups and downs of everyday life
  • Our own excuses, attitudes and personality dispositions
  • Constantly pinging smartphones (the biggest cause of keeping you in alert mode constantly)

Your stressor can be a happy event (wedding, birth etc) as well as an upsetting one (divorce, getting fired etc). It can be a particular time of the year, season or a particular weather condition. It is important to recognise your triggers and then work accordingly on their reduction.

Signs of Stress

These can be physical, emotional, psychological or behavioural.

stress symptomsAdditionally, stress can manifest itself in increased substance abuse. It can be caffeine, tobacco, alcohol, drugs or any other kind of addiction.

The Vicious Cycle of Stress

Stress causes lack of concentration due to which the productivity decreases, leading to poor quality of work and bad performance. This results in more stress and this continues forever until you manage it well.

Our Body’s Fight or Flight Response

Our Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) consists of 2 parts:

  1. Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS)
  2. Parasympathetic Nervous System (PSNS)

Whenever our brain takes in some information, it goes to the limbic system which marks it as emotionally dangerous or safe.

In a dangerous situation (e.g. in front of a lion in a jungle), the ANS takes over which sends the information to the SNS. The SNS will trigger the response as either “fight the situation” or “flight from the scene” or “freeze”. These are the three survival techniques that evolved our primitive brain. Once the danger is over, PSNS brings everything back to normal and relaxes the brain.

PNEI (Psycho-Neuro-Endocrine Immunology)

PNEI is the study of the interaction between psychological processes and the nervous and immune systems of the human body. The main concentration of PNEI is to understand the interaction between nervous and immune systems and the relationship between mental processes and general health of a person i.e. how and why the various psychological issues affect the overall health of a person. So, the basic concept of PNEI describes how the various hormonal problems (like thyroid and other auto-immune disorders) occur due to psychological problems.

fight or flightWhat happens is, whenever a problem (or a threat) occurs, our SNS activates, in order to fight or flight (primitive brain activity trained for survival). Thus, all the hormonal glands get activated and start working upon SNS activation.

Now, in everyday situations, our bosses, office politics, traffic jams, honking vehicles, constantly beeping mobile phones and other triggers become that “dangerous situation”, due to which we start feeling stressed and anxious. As a result, this activates the SNS, asking all the hormonal glands to warm up for survival. Since these glands are hyperactive only in “dangerous situations”, they can get activated invariably (due to everyday stress and anxiety). They can get disturbed and ultimately destroyed, which is one of the prime causes of hormonal (endocrine) diseases like thyroid.

The more our emergency system is activated, the easier it becomes to trigger and the harder it becomes to calm down.

Other Side-Effects of Chronic stress

Our nervous system cannot differentiate between emotional and physical threats. So, if we tend to get super stressed over little things of daily life like an argument with a friend or a work deadline, our body may be in a heightened state of stress most of the time. This can lead to serious health problems.

Chronic stress upsets almost all the systems in our body. It can crash down our immune system, upset our digestive and reproductive systems. It can also increase the risk of heart diseases and speed up the aging process. Additionally, it makes us more vulnerable to anxiety, depression and other mental health problems. Read how stress affects gut health here!

Health Problems Aggravated By Stress

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Unexplained pains
  • Sleep problems
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Digestive problems
  • Skin conditions, such as eczema
  • Heart disease
  • Weight problems
  • Reproductive issues
  • Thinking and memory problems

Some Additional Stressors

Stressors are the situations and conditions that cause stress. We generally think that these are everyday problems in life, however, these are mostly external stressors. On the other hand, there are some internal self-generated stressors too that arises due to our thoughts and natural tendencies.

These internal stressors include:

  • Pessimism
  • Negative outlook
  • Inability to accept uncertainty
  • Unrealistic expectations
  • Inability to trust others
  • Rigid thinking (lack of flexibility)
  • All-or-nothing attitude
  • Inability to delegate work
  • Inability to accept people and situations “as it is”

Did you find the above symptoms and traits/ triggers relatable? If yes, then you’re stressed. Apart from understanding the causes behind stress, it is also important to manage stress before your health takes a turn for the worse. To learn how you can prevent stress effectively, click here!

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