What is stress?
The term “stress” can have many different meanings and can relate to many different things. At times it is used to refer to environmental events that trigger a bodily reaction. At other times it is used to describe that reaction itself. Following the lead of pioneer stress researcher Dr. Hans Selye and others, stress is defined as a bodily state rather than an event in the environment (which is called a “stressor” or “stress trigger”).
Stress is the body’s natural response to demands. It is usually felt as urgency or tension. Stress is a natural and, indeed, a necessary part of life. Positive stress can feel exciting and helps you meet your challenges. But prolonged stress can lead to damaging stress reactions that result in psychological and emotional disorders, psychosomatic disorders (a physical disorder caused by an emotional state), and even life-threatening diseases.
Are there different types of stressors?
Stressors can be divided into two categories: those that reside primarily outside the person and those that are more within the person. Examples of stressors outside the person include economic pressures; rapid technological, social, or personal change; difficult work environments; and interpersonal conflicts. Factors within the individual that influence stress include personality patterns, habitual ways of thinking and acting, unrealistic expectations, unmet needs, and genetics.
What are the typical reactions to stress?
Physical symptoms may include tightened muscles, rapid heartbeat, rising blood pressure, grinding teeth, clenched jaws, sleeplessness, clammy hands, perspiration, upset stomach, headaches, back pain, gastrointestinal symptoms, and fatigue. Emotional symptoms include anxiety, depression, nervousness, agitation, irritability, restlessness, nightmares, and substance abuse.
Under prolonged stress, personal performance may decline in many areas. Interpersonal relationships may deteriorate. There may be an increase in unhealthy habits such as excessive drinking, smoking, or over-eating. Finally, personal health may be compromised. Many diseases are either related to or worsened by stress. Stress has been linked to colitis, high blood pressure, strokes, heart problems, chronic headaches, asthma, skin disorders, and other conditions. Stress may harm one’s immune system.
How can I manage stress?
The first step is to recognize stress and realize that it can be managed. Learning an effective means of relaxation and using it regularly is a good first step – allow yourself some “quiet time,” even if it’s just a few minutes a day. Examining and modifying your thinking, and particularly any unrealistic expectations is another. Adopting positive behaviors such as reasonable scheduling, regular exercise, appropriate assertiveness, proper nutrition, sufficient sleep, and discarding unhealthy behaviours (e.g., smoking, excessive drinking, and eating) is also important. Talking problems out with a friend or family member can help put things in their proper perspective. Working with a therapist/psychologist to address the thought and behavioural patterns that may be exacerbating the experience of stress can be a crucial intervention to help manage chronic stress. At the Clinic on Dupont, we use cognitive-behavioural therapy and other evidence-based treatments to help our clients learn healthier coping strategies to manage the negative effects of stress and increase their inner resilience. Please contact us to learn more.
Zoë Laksman has practiced as a Registered Clinical Psychologist at The Clinic on Dupont since 2007. Laura Clarridge is a certified executive coach who helps her clients find fulfilling educational and career pathways. Their backgrounds and training have shaped their interest in promoting improved psychological health, interpersonal functioning and wellness. They work together as a clinical team and as the developers of The Clinic on Dupont’s online presence.