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When we face changes and challenges in life, feeling stressed out is natural. Stress is the body’s normal response to physical or emotional tension. In this article, Cruse Scotland volunteer, Saboohi Gill, explains what stress is and how you can manage it.
April 01, 2022
When under pressure, people try to cope and respond to a challenge by using available resources. On the one hand, pressure can help us to get prepared for different situations, do our best and excel in life. On the other hand, constant overwhelming feelings can also prevent us to reach our full potential.
Stress can be both the cause and the result of problems. A lot of factors in life can contribute to stress, for example:
Similarly, unexpected situations that we are not prepared for, such as the Covid-19 pandemic, health issues or financial challenges, can be the reason for tension.
Adjustments to new situations can be demanding. Sometimes joyful and positive events can bring stress, such as the birth of a child or starting a new job. Even positive changes which are expected and planned, such as moving house, can be stressful.
Moreover, people going through a lot of new adjustments after the death of a loved one also experience a lot of stress. Loss through death is stressful as, along with bereavement, people may experience the loss of identity, loss of role, loss of meaning in life, change in financial situation and loneliness.
Stress can lead to a lot of physical, emotional, psychological and behavioural issues. The following offers a guide to common symptoms, but please see your GP for a formal diagnosis and further support.
Physical issues related to stress can be weight gain/loss, infections due to lack of immunity, low libido, high blood pressure, menstrual irregularity, lack of sleep or sleeping too much, low energy, aches and pains, tightening in the chest, muscle tension, headaches, racing heart, shakiness and digestive problems.
Emotional issues due to tension can manifest as mood swings, an inability to make the right decisions, lack of motivation, restlessness, irritability, feelings of anger and frustration.
Psychological issues of stress can be worrying, difficulty feeling relaxed, trouble with concentration and memory.
Behavioural issues while experiencing pressure include overcompensation, avoidance, negligence in self-care, not being able to enjoy favourite activities and depending on alcohol or drugs to cope and manage stress.
Stress can be of different natures – positive, acute, episodic and chronic – each of which are explained below.
Chronic stress is ongoing distress which can be the result of traumatic events such as a demanding job, difficult relationships and chronic illness. This stress can cause serious physical, mental and emotional health problems, therefore, it is important to address this. The most challenging part to address this stress is the fact that it is accepted as a normal part of life, as it has been with individuals for a long time. People’s feelings of normality with ongoing stress prevents them to take it seriously and seek help. The majority of people don’t address chronic stress until serious health damage such as heart attack, stroke, cancer, nervous breakdown or violent behaviour occurs.
Acute stress can be both distressing or positive. However, unlike chronic stress, it is short-lived and disappears when a challenging situation is under control or resolved. This stress is a physical reaction to one’s perceived danger and is displayed in ‘fight or flight’ safety behaviours. This kind of stress can be positive at times as it keeps us motivated and energised, as we get a lot of energy from the adrenalin to finish our tasks. This stress also generates irritability, anxiety, low mood, pains, aches, acidic stomach, irritable bowel syndrome, increases heart rate and blood pressure. As acute stress occurs in short bursts, it is less damaging than chronic stress.
Episodic acute stress
Episodic stress can be the result of experiencing acute stress recurrently. Equally, this can be the result of someone trying to cope and manage the tasks which are more than their capacity for a long time. Symptoms of irritability, anger, lack of concentration, poor judgement and aches and pains can make one’s life challenging while experiencing this stress.
At different stages of life, we experience stress on diverse levels. However, our wellbeing depends on the way we respond and how we manage it. Our body and mind being fully connected responds to the stressors. If the body is under strain, we experience emotional strain. Likewise, psychological tension can also trigger physical stress.
In the case of chronic stress, the body is constantly in fight or flight mode to face a perceived challenge. In that condition, adrenaline is released along with other physical changes such as racing heart, slowing digestion and directing blood circulation to particular parts of the body to escape the danger. In case of real danger, this is useful for one’s safety. However, for someone to experience a fight or flight state most of the time and not being able to relax can be harmful to the body and mind. Unhelpful coping strategies such as drinking, smoking, misuse of drugs and overeating can also be destructive.
We win and lose battles in our mind so our thought process and the way we perceive things can add or reduce our stress levels. People react to stress differently. Those who are mindful of the positives in their lives and show gratitude towards what they have, rather than staying too focused on what is missing, can cope better with stress.
Be prepared and flexible
One’s ability to plan and be prepared for expected or unexpected results is great. However, one’s inability to cope and manage in unpredictable situations can cause stress. On the one hand, stability and routines help us to prevent stress. On the other hand, our ability to face uncertainties and cope with unexpected and inevitable changes in life is important as well, as it provides us chances to develop and grow. For example, rigidity either in thought process or behaviours can lessen one’s capacity to embrace changes with ease and move on to the next stage with an open mind and positivity.
While experiencing stress, self-care is of utmost importance. Staying physically and mentally active is vital. Daily exercise – even a short walk – can uplift mood and help to cope with the challenges at hand. A healthy body can help our mind to fight stress. To achieve that, firstly, we need to make sure that we eat a well-balanced diet. Secondly, good sleep is essential. Further, engaging in activities that bring us feelings of happiness, peace and fulfilment are important.
Relaxation techniques are great for de-stressing. Deep breathing exercises, muscle relaxation practice, yoga, tai chi and mediation can aid to manage pressure. A lot of relaxation activities are available online and it is easy to choose a suitable one. These activities can reduce stress and increase feelings of calm. As a result, it improves immunity, increases energy and can lower blood pressure.
Having awareness of our own limits is important for our self-care. It is necessary to say “no” when we are not able to take on additional tasks. Acceptance of our limits and awareness that we can’t have control over every aspect of life can help us to accept life’s realities. It is also good to set realistic goals and appreciate ourselves for what we have accomplished, rather than feel low about what we have failed to achieve.
Most importantly, we need to stay in touch with our support network; people who are there for us to provide a listening ear, emotional or practical support.
And finally, if stress is persistent and impairing one’s day-to-day life, it would be helpful to discuss it with a GP or talk to a counsellor/therapist as they can equip people to cope and manage stress.
Saboohi Gill – Cruse Scotland Volunteer
Saboohi is a Cognitive Behavioural Therapist who helps clients experiencing anxiety, depression, anger, trauma, PTSD, addictions, bereavement and relationship problems. She worked for 11 years with oppressed, depressed women who suffered domestic abuse. For the last 2 years she has been working as a CBT therapist with people suffering from complex grief and trauma. Psychology and theology are Saboohi’s passions and she has an MA Honours degree in Theology and Religious Studies (World Religion). Saboohi finds it intriguing to learn about people’s beliefs, how it impacts their way of being and their interactions with others. Saboohi supports an essential interfaith dialogue; she believes accepting and respecting our differences can reduce religious and cultural tensions. Saboohi has three children and a very supportive husband. She writes poetry, enjoys music, nature and food.