When is the last time you felt stressed? What caused it? Are you stressed right now? Take a minute to consider when, during your day and week, you tend to feel the most overwhelmed and tense. When are you under the most strain? What physical and emotional signs of stress do you experience when the tension goes on for too long?
We all go through times of feeling overwhelmed or overworked. Maybe you think being constantly stressed is normal. Or, maybe you feel like it’s a completely negative condition to have that sense of emotional stress.
It’s possible, especially if you grew up in an abusive or dysfunctional household, that you’re not used to living without a feeling of constant stress and tension. But, you should know that even though feeling stressed out is a normal occurrence for everyone, you don’t have to live with chronic stress with no healthy coping mechanisms. There is hope to deal with chronic stress, to escape it when possible, and to manage it optimally if you can’t escape it.
The truth is that stress is a complex experience that affects the brain, body, and emotions. There’s no simple explanation for what causes it, how to reduce stress, and how to manage the necessary stress that’s an inevitable part of our daily lives.
But, there are some answers available to you, and more importantly, there is support if you are feeling too overwhelmed to manage life stressors on your own. Let’s talk more in detail about the meaning of stress, types of stress, ways to relieve stress, and what you can do if there’s just too much for you to manage.
Defining Stress and the Causes of Stress
According to the Cleveland Clinic:
“Stress is the body’s reaction to any change that requires an adjustment or response. The body reacts to these changes with physical, mental, and emotional responses. Stress is a normal part of life. You can experience stress from your environment, your body, and your thoughts. Even positive life changes such as a promotion, a mortgage, or the birth of a child produce stress.”
In other words, not all stress is bad stress. It’s just that our bodies respond to change with physical symptoms of stress, and all of us have different thresholds for how much we can tolerate before feeling overwhelmed. Negative life experiences will inevitably affect us physically and emotionally.
So, if your body reacts to significant life events with specific responses, how can you know how much stress is too much? If you’re noticing signs of stress, or if you’re going through a long season of chronic stress, what can you do to cope? Coping with difficult experiences or life changes helps us build resiliency, the ability to emotionally navigate and withstand hard circumstances.
If we never faced the need to adjust to new situations or cope with tough experiences, we would never develop the emotional resources to manage difficulty. People who cannot cope with any form of stress end up being emotionally immature and having life and relationship difficulties. Paradoxically, the less we can cope with stress, the more stressed out we will become.
But let’s reiterate, this doesn’t mean that stress is always a good thing. In fact, chronic stress is linked to increased risk of disease and death, and it can cause physical and emotional problems, or lead to unhealthy and destructive coping mechanisms such as chronic procrastination, overeating, or substance abuse.
Causes of Stress
That’s why it’s so important to identify the causes of your stress, do what you can to reduce it, and develop healthy coping mechanisms to manage your response to circumstances you can’t change.
According to WebMD, the biggest causes of stress are:
- Work and the various difficulties inherent in a person’s job.
- Life events such as moving, divorce, or trauma. These can be positive (marriage, the birth of a child, etc.) or negative (difficult situations, trauma, tragedy, etc.).
- Internal feelings of fear, unrealistic expectations, or negative attitudes.
Types of Stress
Psychology Today explains that there are three types of stress:
- Acute: An argument, a missed deadline, a car accident.
- Episodic Stress: Regular small crises that cause accumulating tension.
- Chronic: Serious life problems that may be fundamentally beyond our control: poverty, war, or racism. The demands are unrelenting and you don’t know when they will stop.
The Effects of Stress
Everyone has their own natural level of response to stress, but all of us have a built-in physical stress response. In the short-term, when we feel unsafe, our bodies produce “fight-or-flight” hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones prepare us to flee or overcome an attacker.
But, if we are exposed to these hormones consistently for long periods of time, we will start to notice negative health effects and signs of stress, such as digestive problems, sleep problems, headaches, flare-ups in chronic conditions, etc. Mental health issues are also common with long-term stress, including depression and anxiety.
Although you can develop positive coping mechanisms in the short term or for acute stress, chronic stress is very detrimental to health. According to Medical News Today, symptoms of chronic stress include:
- Frequent illness
- Appetite changes
- Sleep difficulties
These are some of the conditions that may be a result of chronic stress:
- Autoimmune diseases
- Heart disease
- Anxiety disorders
- A weakened immune system
Clearly, chronic stress can be a dangerous condition. Sometimes, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, especially if you use unhealthy coping mechanisms to respond to stress. These negative patterns can cause more stress.
This means you lack the ability to move on from difficulty, change what you can in your circumstances, and respond in the best way possible that doesn’t cause you more problems on top of the original stressor.
Ways to Relieve Stress
Some causes of stress are outside of your control:
- Maybe you or a loved one has a disease or chronic condition that you have to manage, and there’s no cure, or treatment stretches out for years.
- Maybe you are in a toxic marriage or household, and you don’t have the means to leave.
- Maybe you are in a destructive situation at work, but you have to keep working because you are the sole source of income for your family and other jobs are scarce.
In these situations, your feelings of being trapped and helpless can exacerbate your ongoing stress.
Even if you can’t eliminate the causes of your stress, there is still hope for you. There are resources that can help you live your best life even in the midst of a situation you can’t change. There are measures you can take to care for yourself in the midst of toxic or tragic situations.
Learning small coping mechanisms can be step #1 on the road to regaining a sense of agency in your life. There are some situations we can’t change, but we don’t have to let learned helplessness take over. Stress reduction can look like breathing, relaxation, walking, or art. You can proactively care for yourself by eating well, practicing gratitude, doing yoga, or exercising.
Verywell Mind includes the above strategies in the category of fast-acting stress relief. Sometimes, though, there are things about a situation that you do have the power to change. If this is the case, it might be time to shift into problem-solving mode:
- Can you reduce your workload, get help from others, or cut back on caffeine and sugar?
- Can you make a long-term plan and take the first step for getting out of a toxic situation?
- How can you take a break, even if you can’t avoid the source of the stress altogether?
Christian Counseling to Reduce Stress
Seek counseling for stress if you need to. Feeling heard, understood, and supported is vital to help your mind, body, and emotions cope with a host of difficult stressors.
Christian counseling for stress management can help you process your emotions in a safe and compassionate environment, then take the next step to develop coping mechanisms and problem-solving strategies. Your counselor will use proven therapeutic techniques integrated with a faith-based perspective, with the goal of drawing you closer to Christ.
Contact our office today for your risk-free initial appointment.
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