Most of us are back into school/work routines after the holidays and many activities and classes that have been on break have resumed. We are back to the grind. For all of us, the daily routine comes with some amount of stress. But how much stress and how we adapt to it varies from person to person. The term stress is thrown around a lot and while most of us have some idea of what that means, sometimes some clarity can be helpful.
Anyone who is alive is going to experience some amount of stress. It is brought on by anything that challenges us or poses a threat to our overall well-being. It’s important to note that feeling stressed is our response, our response to a stressor which is any event or stimulus that causes stress. We are most prone to feeling stress when we think we do not have the resources or tools to deal with a stressor and what one person finds stressful, another may not (i.e. public speaking). We often think of stress in negative terms, but it also applies to positive challenges in our life. Getting a new job, a promotion, getting married, and having a baby are (usually) positive experiences, but still present us with a new challenge.
When we are faced with a stress our body responds by either preparing to fight, flight or freeze. We might face the stressor, or become aggressive towards it; flee the stressor, or become paralyzed under pressure and do nothing. There is no right or wrong stress response and depending on the situation any of the responses might be most appropriate.
Stress can be short term or long term. Long term stress takes a toll on us physically, emotionally, cognitively and behaviorally. Physically we might have aches and pains, nausea, a racing heart, and might be sick more often due to a slowed down immune system. Emotionally we might feel overwhelmed, isolated, sad, moody and irritable. Cognitively, long term stress impacts our judgment, memory, ability to focus, and can leave us thinking negative thoughts. Some common behavioral symptoms of long term stress include eating and sleeping more or less, increase in substance use, and neglecting responsibilities.
Stress can take a huge toll on us, both physically and mentally. While stress is inevitable, we can learn to manage it in productive and healthy ways to minimize its effects. Stay tuned for part two on next week’s blog which focuses on how to manage stress and self-care strategies.