In today's world, most of us spend each moment of our life working. We are caught up in the race to stay ahead that we don't even notice as life passes us by. We are surrounded by cell phones, computers, pagers, TV, ATMs, and other technical gadgets that are meant to help us. Instead, they are keeping us plugged into the world 24/7. It is almost like we are all wired to one another. As a result, stress has become a part of our everyday life.
Nature of Stress
Stress is our body's response to external or internal stimuli. External cues can be any of the following: a move to a new city, a death of a close relative, a marriage in the family, or a long-awaited promotion. Internal stimuli consist of both physical and mental comfort and discomfort.
Physical triggers can include sitting in uncomfortable chairs, working in cramped spaces, overworking, and many other situations.
Emotional triggers include boredom, anxiety, or a conflict in personal or work relationships. Apart from these, personality traits, like the need to please others and to be perfect at everything, can also cause stress.
The events that provoke stress are called stressors. These cover a whole range of situations — everything from outright physical danger to making a class presentation.
The human body reacts naturally to fight the stressors. This reaction is called the fight response or the stress response. It activates the nervous system and specific glands that release hormones.
These hormones speed up heart rate, breath rate, blood pressure, and metabolism. Blood vessels widen to let more blood flow to large muscles putting them on alert. Pupils dilate to improve vision. The body releases some of its stored glucose to supply more energy. Moreover, sweat is produced to cool the body.
All of these physical changes prepare a person to react quickly and effectively to handle the pressure of the moment.
If the body is working properly, then the fight response actually helps to perform better under stress. However, the fight response can cause problems if after the stressful situation passes, the body doesn't reset to its normal condition.
Stress can be good as it keeps a person on his or her toes. For example, being alert while one is driving is good stress. It can help avoid accidents by making the driver slam the brakes at the right time. Another example is stepping up to play a crucial penalty kick during the World Cup that might win the game. Stress can carry many students through their finals as well.
The thing about good stress is that it only lasts for a small amount of time and helps enhance performance or avoid accidents. After the event passes, the nervous system goes back to its normal mode.
When Good Goes Bad
Stress becomes bad when we are stuck in situations where the body has to fight back constantly. This can be an ongoing divorce, overworking on a regular basis, or coping with a learning disability. It can be related to different types of abuse ranging from physical to emotional.
According to Dr. Catanza Rite, author of The Rite Way to Immortality: 7 Rite Rules of Wellness, Energy & Longevity, "Long-term stressful situations can produce a lasting, low-level stress that's hard on people. The nervous system senses continued pressure and may remain slightly activated and continue to pump out extra stress hormones over an extended period. This can wear out the body's reserves, leave a person feeling depleted or overwhelmed, weaken the body's immune system, and cause other problems."
Facts & Figures:
· Up to 80% of industrial accidents are due to stress.
· Over 50% of lost work days are stress-related.
· 14% of all workers say stress caused them to quit or change jobs in the previous two years.
· 43% of all adults suffer adverse health effects due to stress.
· 75-90% of all visits to primary care physicians are for stress-related complaints or disorders.
· An estimated 1 million workers are absent on an average workday because of stress related complaints.
· Stress is said to be responsible for more than half of the 550,000,000 workdays lost annually because of absenteeism.
Although a small amount of stress can be a good thing, too much of it is not. Pressures that are too intense or last too long, or troubles that are too big to be handled, can cause people to feel stress overload.
According to the Encyclopedia of Occupational Safety and Health, some studies link stress overload with ulcers, cancer, impaired immunes function, and suicide. Job stress is linked to increased risk of cardiovascular disease, musculoskeletal disorders such as neck pains, and psychological disorders such as depression and burnout.
Every one experiences stress differently. Some people become angry and act out their stress or take it out on others. Some people internalize it and develop eating disorders or substance abuse problems. Others who have chronic illnesses may find that the symptoms of their illness flare up under a stress overload.
With revolutionary advancements in medicine, living a stress-free life should be a reality. Instead, more people than ever before suffer from stress and stress-related illnesses. According to Rite, who runs the Central for Better Health in the US, it comes down to bad habits.
The reason is individuals fail to change as they are literally "slaves" to unhealthy behaviors and are compulsively driven by habits formed in the subconscious. Bad habits foster an unhealthy lifestyle and over time, as poor choices become engrained in the subconscious mind, the ability to overturn these poor living habits seems overwhelming.
However, when there is a stress overload, the body sends out warning signs. Some of these signs are sleep disorders, anxiety attacks, overeating, and stomach problems. Irritability, depression, an allergic reaction like asthma, and a feeling of being constantly pressured or rushed are also related signs of stress overload.
If you would like to see what stress does to your body, go to the mirror and clench your fists, scowl, and tense your body as the participants do at Mr. Universe. Look at yourself now. Do you make a pretty picture? This is what happens inside your body when you experience stress overload!
If you think you look horrid on the outside in this pose, imagine what it is doing to your poor nerves, tiny veins, and delicate body parts on the inside. It is not surprising that stress overload is ruining to health. Usually, some lifestyle changes can help manage stress. Here are seven steps to reduce stress.
1. Don't overwork.Never take on more work than you can complete on your own. If you feel stretched, consider cutting down a task or two. Try to focus on the tasks that you think are the most important.
2. Get enough sleep. Getting a good night's sleep keeps your body and mind in top form. If you work during the night, then sleep during the day. Whatever your sleeping pattern is, make sure you get six to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep. Getting enough sleep helps your body combat negative stressors.
3. Don't be a perfectionist. Don't try to be perfect, and stop expecting others to be perfect too — the truth is no one is perfect. This expectation of yourself or others will only add to your stress level. Be realistic. Delegate tasks instead of doing all of it yourself just because you don't think others will do it perfectly. If you do not delegate, then you may burnout because of the cumulative effects of stressors.
4. Solve the little problems. Learning to solve everyday problems gives a sense of control. Avoiding them will only cause depression and stress to accumulate. This buildup over time will lead to a stress overload. Feeling capable of solving little problems builds the inner confidence to move on to life's bigger and more stressful situations and be ready for them.
5. Treat your body well. Your body is the canvas on which you paint your life. Treat it well. Experts agree that regular exercise helps combat stress. However, excessive or compulsive exercise routines can add to stress. Eat nutritious food rich in vitamins and minerals. Otherwise, during stressful conditions, you may turn to junk food, alcohol, and drug abuse. Although alcohol and drugs may seem to temporarily relieve stress, relying on them during stressful conditions increases the problem as it slowly wears down the body.
6. Learn to relax. Do yoga or simple breathing exercises. Ensure your schedule is calmed down by making time for relaxing activities on a daily basis. When the body and mind rest, a relaxation response is triggered that can combat stress.
7. Change your attitude. You are what you think. Change the way you view things around you. Treat setbacks as temporary problems. Believe that you'll achieve your goal if you work towards it. Your attitude, outlook, and thoughts influence the way you see and react to events around you. A little optimism helps combat stress. This is how some people stay cool under pressure.
Try to follow these seven ways regularly and not only when you are overloaded with stress. This will help you avoid stress on a day-to-day basis. However, in case of stressors like rape and other traumatic events such as an earthquake, it is better to seek professional help.