Mark started a new job recently. His workload is heavy and he has been pressured by his supervisor to meet tight deadlines. He worries about his work, and at night he can’t fall asleep easily as he used to. Each morning after he wakes up, his stomach turns. He doesn’t want to work, but he knows he has to. His wife notices that Mark doesn’t have his regular big smile on his face anymore. Sometimes he seems lost in his thoughts and doesn’t respond to her words.
Clearly Mark is stressed-out.
What is stress?
Stress is a bodily, emotional, and psychological response to the demands of life. In today’s society, the stress many people experience is a response to psychological threats. Some of these threats includes starting a new job, losing a job, looking for employment, the death of a loved one, or experiencing relationship issues. Any of these can occur more than once through our life.
When we are under stress, we feel our life is under threat. The fight or flight response is triggered. Our body prepares us to fight or flee, which generates the physical aspects of stress. Additional adrenaline and cortisol are released into the bloodstream. These hormones cause increased blood flow, clotting, elevated heart rate, blood pressure, and blood sugar. These aspects of stress response is immediate and uncontrollable. They help the body to more quickly and effectively fight or flee.
If we are experiencing a psychological threat, we can’t run away or fight back. For example, Mark can’t quit his job whenever he is stressed-out by a deadline. He can’t fight his boss either.
However, his body reacts to his perception of this psychological threat as if it is a real physical threat. His body generates its fight or flight response and is trapped with a lot of hormones inside whenever he feels the stress.
Our body are not built to endure constant fight or flight response. Consistently high levels of stress can cause people to develop conditions such as hypertension, stroke, diabetes, chronic pains, and heart attacks.
What are the symptoms of stress?
Continual stress can generate physical, psychological, and emotional symptoms. Stress effects people on different levels.
Physical symptoms of stress include:
- Stomach aches
- Body pain
- Digestive problems
Mental symptoms of stress include:
- Suicidal ideation
- Eating disorders
Emotional symptoms of stress include:
If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, and you want to learn how to manage your stress, you could consult with a doctor or a therapist.
What causes stress?
Doctors and therapists use the Holmes-Rahe Stress Inventory to measure common stressful events and give a numerical value to rank them. Some common stressors in life include:
- Losing a job or starting a new job
- Getting divorced or going through a breakup
- Getting married
- Being discriminated against
- Experiencing a change in financial status
- Following the news or politics
- Having a child
- Beginning or ending school
- Experiencing a loss
- Being diagnosed with a serious illness
Stress is usually easier to manage in smaller amounts, especially when other factors help mitigate it. When stress grows too intense, some people have a hard time to handle it. Over-stressed individuals may start using unhealthy coping mechanisms to lessen the physical, mental, or emotional pain caused by stress.
What are the unhealthy coping mechanisms?
A few examples of potentially harmful coping mechanisms for stress include:
- Drinking excessively
- Emotional eating
- Illicit drug use
How about Mark's work stress?
In order to cope with the stress from his work, Mark may start to drink more and more to relax his nerves. Then, his wife could complain about his drinking problem, but Mark may insist that he only drinks wine to help him to relax after a tough day
at work. They may start to fight over his drinking problem. Now Mark not only has work stress, he also faces the additional stress of a marital problem. Poor Mark…….
What if Mark talks to a professional like a doctor or a counsellor about his stress instead of drinking? His doctor or counsellor will probably help Mark develop some healthy methods to deal with stress, instead of resorting to drinking and compounding the stress issue.
In modern days, stress is a part of life that is not going anywhere. The helpful treatment of a doctor or mental health professional may be necessary, especially if stress persists. With some professional assistance we can teach our body to deal with stress, and to teach our mind to deal with the psychological threat.