Common causes of stress

Causes of Stress

Everyone has different stress triggers. Work stress tops the list, according to surveys. Forty percent of U.S. workers admit to experiencing office stress, and one-quarter say work is the biggest source of stress in their lives.

Causes of work stress include:

  • Being unhappy in your job
  • Having a heavy workload or too much responsibility
  • Working long hours
  • Having poor management, unclear expectations of your work, or no say in the decision-making process
  • Working under dangerous conditions
  • Being insecure about your chance for advancement or risk of termination
  • Having to give speeches in front of colleagues
  • Facing discrimination or harassment at work, especially if your company isn’t supportive

Life stresses can also have a big impact. Examples of life stresses are:

  • The death of a loved one
  • Divorce
  • Loss of a job
  • Increase in financial obligations
  • Getting married
  • Moving to a new home
  • Chronic illness or injury
  • Emotional problems (depression, anxiety, anger, grief, guilt, low self-esteem)
  • Taking care of an elderly or sick family member
  • Traumatic event, such as a natural disaster, theft, rape, or violence against you or a loved one

Sometimes the stress comes from inside, rather than outside. You can stress yourself out just by worrying about things. All of these factors can lead to stress:

  • Fear and uncertainty. When you regularly hear about the threat of terrorist attacks, global warming, and toxic chemicals on the news, it can cause you to feel stressed, especially because you feel like you have no control over those events. And even though disasters are typically very rare events, their vivid coverage in the media may make them seem as if they are more likely to occur than they really are. Fears can also hit closer to home, such as being worried that you won’t finish a project at work or won’t have enough money to pay your bills this month.
  • Attitudes and perceptions. How you view the world or a particular situation can determine whether it causes stress. For example, if your television set is stolen and you take the attitude, “It’s OK, my insurance company will pay for a new one,” you’ll be far less stressed than if you think, “My TV is gone and I’ll never get it back! What if the thieves come back to my house to steal again?” Similarly, people who feel like they’re doing a good job at work will be less stressed out by a big upcoming project than those who worry that they are incompetent.
  • Unrealistic expectations. No one is perfect. If you expect to do everything right all the time, you’re destined to feel stressed when things don’t go as expected.
  • Change. Any major life change can be stressful — even a happy event like a wedding or a job promotion. More unpleasant events, such as a divorce, major financial setback, or death in the family can be significant sources of stress.

Your stress level will differ based on your personality and how you respond to situations. Some people let everything roll off their back. To them, work stresses and life stresses are just minor bumps in the road. Others literally worry themselves sick.

Causes of Stress: Recognizing and Managing Your Stressors

Health

Aging, diagnosis of a new disease, and symptoms or complications from a current illness can increase your stress. Even if you don’t have health problems yourself, someone close to you may be coping with an illness or condition. That can increase your stress levels too. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), more than half of caregivers report feeling overwhelmed by the amount of care their family members need.

Relationships

Arguments with your spouse, parent, or child can increase your stress levels. When you live together, it can be even more stressful. Problems between other members of your family or household can also cause you stress, even when you’re not directly involved.

Personal beliefs

Arguments about personal, religious, or political beliefs can challenge you, especially in situations where you can’t remove yourself from the conflict. Major life events that cause you to question your own beliefs can also cause stress. This is especially true if your beliefs are different from those of the people closest to you.

Emotional problems

When you feel unable to relate to someone, or you need to express your emotions but can’t, it can weigh you down with additional stress. Mental health disorders, including depression and anxiety, only add to the emotional strain. Positive outlets for emotional release and treatment for mental health disorders are important parts of effective stress management.

Life changes

The death of a loved one, changing jobs, moving houses, and sending a child off to college are examples of big life changes that can be stressful. Even positive changes, such as retirement or getting married, can cause a significant amount of stress.

Money

Financial trouble is a common source of stress. Credit card debt, rent, or the inability to provide for your family or yourself can put a serious amount of stress on you. In this society, where so much emphasis is put on what you have and what you can afford, financial stress is something that nearly everyone can relate to. According to the APA, nearly three-quarters of Americans say that finances are a source of stress in their life.

This is the No. 1 reason Americans are so stressed out

It’s hard to buck this trend.

Money is the biggest source of stress for Americans, research shows. Indeed, a survey by Northwestern Mutual found that money was the dominant source of stress for 44% of Americans, followed by the 25% who said personal relationships, and just 18% blaming work. And data from the American Psychological Association also shows that money is the No. 1 stressor for Americans: “Regardless of the economic climate, money and finances have remained the top stressor since our survey began in 2007,” the results revealed.

Money stress is widespread — and it’s seeping into our work lives. Financial firm John Hancock’s Financial Stress Survey released Tuesday found that 69% of workers were stressed over their finances, with fully 72% admitting to worrying about their personal finances at work, and one in three doing that more than once a week.

It’s no wonder, as Americans are drowning in financial troubles. Credit card debt hit a record high this year at more than $1 trillion, according to the Federal Reserve. Student loan debt has jumped 150% over the span of just a decade. And not only are we drowning in debt; we’re also not saving. About 1 in 4 Americans don’t even have a single dollar saved for an emergency.

All of this takes a big toll on us: A survey by the American Institute of CPAs found that more than half of Americans with debt say that it’s negatively impacted their lives. And a survey released by online lending marketplace LendingClub reveals that Americans who report poor financial health also tend to have poor physical health. Indeed, they are significantly less likely to practice healthy physical habits (59% do not get routine check-ups and 60% do not get regular exercise) and they are more likely to skip preventative health measures due to cost (38%). “Bad wealth begets bad health,” the survey concluded.

What’s more, these money issues are causing more than just some feelings of dread and skipped doctor’s office visits. Here are some of the many ways financial stress may impact your health:

Depression and anxiety. People with greater financial stress have more symptoms of depression and anxiety than those who aren’t financially stressed, according to a 2013 study published in the journal Anxiety, Coping and Stress. And John Hancock’s data reveals that financial stress is triggering physical and psychological symptoms like anxiety and sleeplessness for roughly 60% of workers.

Migraines. A study released in 2017 found that for many people, financial stress is related to getting more migraines. Indeed, people with a certain genetic variation of the so-called CLOCK gene — it helps control things like body temperature and levels of the stress hormone cortisol; about ⅓ of the population has this variation — are more likely to get migraines in times of financial stress.

Ulcers and digestive issues. An Associated Press poll showed that people who are under high financial stress are way more likely to complain of ulcers and digestive problems (27% of them said they had these issues) than those who have low financial stress (8%).

High blood pressure and heart attacks. High levels of debt may also lead to higher blood pressure, according to a 2013 study of 8400 young adults published in the journal Social Science Medicine. Treating hypertension can cost you $700 or more per year, data shows Annual expenditures for those treated for hypertension averaged $733 per adult in 2010. What’s more, people with high financial stress are more likely to report they’ve had a heart attack or an arrhythmia (6%) than those with low financial stress (3%), according to AP data.

Disrupted sleep. Well over half of both women (68%) and men (56%) say they lose sleep at least occasionally because they’re worried about money, according to a survey of 1,000 adults released in 2016 by CreditCards.com, a credit-card comparison website. And that can be very costly: Americans spend more than $40 billion on sleep aids.

This story was originally published in September and has been updated.

Catey Hill

Catey Hill is MarketWatch’s senior content strategist. She writes about how to upgrade your life, and helps readers find great deals on products and services. Follow her on Twitter @CateyHill.

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Work Stress

As we have studied so far in this chapter, we can experience a number of possible stressors. We can divide these stressors into personal stresses and work stresses. Although we divide them for purposes of ease, it is intuitive that if someone is experiencing personal stress, he or she will also experience it at work, which will result in lessened workplace performance. In fact, the American Institute of Stress estimates that workplace stress costs companies $300 billion annually. This cost is a result of increased absenteeism, employee turnover, and higher medical and insurance costs due to stress related illness and worker productivity.The American Institute of Stress, “Stress in the Workplace,” accessed February 19, 2012, http://www.stress.org/workplace-stress/

According to the American Institute of Stress,The American Institute of Stress, “Stress in the Workplace,” accessed February 19, 2012, http://www.stress.org/workplace-stress/ some of the common causes of workplace stress include the following:

  1. Long hours and increased demands. The average American works forty-six hours per week.The Library Spot, “National Sleep Foundation Study,” accessed February 19, 2012, http://www.libraryspot.com/know/workweek.htm Much of this is due to increased technology and expectations that employees will be available to answer e-mail on weekends and evenings. As a result of this added work time, employees find less time to engage in leisure and household activities such as grocery shopping and cleaning.
  2. Being treated unfairly. Workplace issues such as harassment and bullying (both discussed in Chapter 10 “Manage Diversity at Work”) can cause people to feel stress at work. Additional issues such as feeling overlooked for promotions can also cause workplace stress. In extreme cases, perceived workplace unfairness can result in violence. For example, Matthew Beck shot and killed four supervisors in a Connecticut lottery office because he felt he had been unfairly overlooked for a promotion.Johnathan Rabinnoviz, “Lottery Personnel Shows Lottery Killer Came Back Early from Leave,” New York Times, March 12, 1988, accessed February 19, 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/1998/03/12/nyregion/lottery-personnel-file-shows-killer-came-back-to-work-early-from-a-leave.html? ref=matthewbeck Many organizations offer Employee Assistance ProgramsPrograms offered by companies that provide services, such as counseling, to help deal with workplace stress and other personal issues. that can offer services, such as counseling, to help deal with workplace stress and other personal issues.
  3. Little or no acknowledgment or reward. People can feel stress when they do not feel they are being recognized for the work they do. This kind of workplace stress can cause people to become withdrawn, unmotivated, or unfocused on being productive for the organization. This type of behavior can also materialize at home with people experiencing this stress being more irritable, cranky, and moody. At work, these feelings can negatively affect our ability to relate to our coworkers and manager.
  4. Lack of control. MicromanagementThe excessive control of work details by a supervisor. refers to excessive control of work details by a supervisor. For example, a micromanager might tell an employee specific tasks should be worked on in a given day and give specific instructions on how those tasks should be accomplished. This type of situation can create stress, as the employee feels he or she has little control of their own work.
  5. Lack of job security. In the last quarter of 2011 (October, November, December), 266,971 employees were subjected to mass company layoffs,The Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Economic News Release: Mass Layoffs,” accessed February 19, 2012, http://www.bls.gov/news.release/mslo.nr0.htm and for obvious reasons, this creates stress upon the workers who had to leave and for those workers who stay. Those workers who have been laid off may experience financial hardship, and the workers who haven’t been laid off may need to perform extra work and can suffer from physiological issues even if their jobs were not eliminated. This phenomenon is called layoff survivor syndromeThe physiological issues suffered by people who stay in organizations where people around them are laid off..JoNel Aleccia, “Guilty and Stressed, Layoff Survivors Suffers, Too,” MSNBC, accessed February 19, 2012, http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/28196734/ns/health-behavior/t/guilty-stressed-layoff-survivors-suffer-too/ Many of the stressors caused by layoffs can include increased workloads, increased anxiety, and lower morale.
  6. Office politics. Dealing with difficult coworkers or supervisors and different personalities (Chapter 9 “Handle Conflict and Negotiation”) and communication styles (Chapter 4 “Communicate Effectively”) can create stress at work. Conflicts, disagreements, and misunderstandings are common in today’s workplace, especially with the use of technology. All of these factors, which we call office politics, can create stress, which results in lost sleep, productivity, and motivation—obviously affecting our ability to relate to others.

Figure 3.3 Some of the Reasons Cited for Workplace Stress

Work Stress Management

Registered clinical psychologist Dr. Cheryl talks about some ways to manage stress at work.

Figure 3.4 Time Use on an Average Work Day for Employed Persons Ages Twenty-five to Fifty-four with Children

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows how much time we spend at work. Since we spend more time at work than doing anything else, learning how to manage stress at work is an important part to our personal well-being and productivity.

5 Sources of Stress and Anxiety in the Modern World

Source: Anne Lowe/PublicDomainPictures.net

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 40 million adults in the US are affected by anxiety, and millions more are afflicted depression-related disorders.

Overall, they estimate 18% of all adults have some form of mental illness. And most of the rest of us have too much stress in our lives, especially during the prime productivity and child-rearing ages of 18-55.
Some folks suffer for very specific reasons—perhaps because of a brain lesion, a genetic mutation, specific episodes of trauma, or an idiosyncratic chemical imbalance.
But many folks with diagnosable disorders simply suffer from more intense versions of the same things that almost everyone is suffering from. Some are just harder-hit than others because of their particular social circumstances, or because they are slightly more susceptible (a difference in degree, not in kind).
So why is there so much stress, anxiety, and depression these days?

Evolutionary psychologists will tell us that part of the problem is that there’s a mismatch between the current environment (with its cities, bureaucracies, inequality, and social media) and the environment of evolutionary adaptation (tribal life on the savanna).
In order to explore this possibility a bit, we will consider some of the ways the modern world is different from the one our ancestors on the savanna might have encountered.
Here are 5 ways reasons the modern world might produce more stress, anxiety and depression than that of our distant ancestors.

1. We interact with a greater diversity of people.

As we meet new people over the course of a year, we confront a greater diversity of skills, knowledge, and values than people have ever encountered before.

Source: Reguly/Wikimedia Commons

Diversity is the source of much good. Diverse groups of qualified people usually come up with better solutions to problems than less diverse groups.

However, modern diversity also strains our brains—especially the diversity in values.

A person has a family. A person also has workmates, schoolmates, and playmates. And people join churches or special interest groups that meet weekly or monthly, in person or on the internet.

Perhaps our families are Democrats our work mates are Republicans, and our school mates are Communists.

Perhaps our families are Catholics, our workmates are Protestants, and our schoolmates are Atheists.

Our families like country music, our school mates like rap and pop, and our work mates like classic rock.

Some of these differences are trivial, and some are not.

Somehow we have to figure out a way to get along with those people in our lives who have influence over our wellbeing. And we must be careful how we do this.

People have a stake in whether we agree with them or not. They need to know what to expect from us, and whether we’re with them or against them. And we need to figure out when it’s necessary to be with them and when it’s OK to be against them, because being on the side of one person sometimes requires being opposed to another.

When our grandfather makes an insensitive statement about members of a different group, perhaps we don’t rebuke him, but give a polite smile and change the subject. Then we feel guilt at the thought of what our friends would think of our not speaking out.

When a friend complains about the alienation of the work force at the hands of greedy capitalists, we might want to respond in a way that keeps us in good standing with our friend (whether we agree with her or not). But we also have our boss and family members in the back of our heads judging how we respond.

The normative landscape is rugged. And these examples are vastly oversimplified. Most issues are not ones you are simply for or against, but there are dozens of nuanced positions to take. And many groups contain members all along a given value spectrum.

It’s fair to ask whether our brains are fully equipped to handle the degree of diversity we face today.

2. We compare ourselves to higher standards.

We watch TV and everyone is beautiful. We are not as beautiful. How many people in a tribe of 150 look like Rosario Dawson? How many look like Jamie Dornan?

Aren’t they just disgustingly adorable? Source: Unsplash/Pexels

We watch TV and everyone is rich. Entrepreneurs are always successful. Authors always get published. People’s houses are considerably nicer than ours.

We watch the Olympics and realize we might as well not even know how to run or swim. And it dawns on us that our synchronized swimming partner sucks.

Only those in the top 1% of 1% of 1% have an opportunity to display their talents, wealth, and beauty before the general public. And those are the people we compare ourselves to. It’s a nearly impossible standard.

It’s natural to want to be the prettiest girl in the tribe, to have the most resources, or to be the best in the known world at something that others understand and respect. Once upon a time we could set goals like that and get away with it.

Today we draw our competition from a pool of 7 billion people, and wanting to be among the elite is most often a recipe for discouragement.

3. We specialize more.

Aristotle read all the intellectual writings that existed in Greece in his time, and then went on to add a substantial chunk to this body of knowledge himself.

Even as recently as 1600—if you were reasonably bright and had enough time on your hands—you could have a good grasp of all academic knowledge. You could read all the “classics”. You could master the known mathematics, philosophy, rhetoric and so on.

From 1600 to 1900 you could not master all human knowledge, no matter how bright you were; but, if you worked hard, you could aspire to master a single field—like mathematics, physics, philosophy or history.

By 1950, you were lucky to master a sub-discipline like Chinese history.

Today you’re lucky to master a sub-sub-sub discipline—like the history of the first 100 years of the Ch’in Dynasty from the perspective of a house servant.

Today we have to work harder than ever to get mastery of ever smaller fields. And the payoff for this work is smaller than ever.

If you were a scholar in the year 1500 and you went to a cocktail party and someone introduced you as “a scholar”, that meant something. That meant you knew EVERYTHING.

Today, you go to a family reunion and tell them you’ve worked for 20 years to become an expert on the realism/anti-realism debate in the meta-ethics sub-sub field of Philosophy, and your relatives don’t know what to think of that. Then they ask around and find out you make $35,000/year, and they figure it must not be very important.

You tell someone you develop web-based software. They hear “computers” and they want you to fix their printer. You can’t fix their printer, so you must not really know computers.

We often don’t understand what our neighbor does for a living, and we don’t know how to explain what we do.

We might even be the best in the world at some small little leaf far out on the tree of skill or the tree of knowledge, but no one we grew up with cares.

4. Markets are more efficient (a.k.a. “It’s the economy, stupid!”)

If you provide a good no one else provides, you can charge a high price and make good money. This probably won’t last long, though. If your profit margin is high enough, others will notice the opportunity and set up shop to compete with you. This will drive down prices. With enough competition, prices will fall to a level not much higher than the cost of production.

Are you squeezing? Or being squeezed? Source: Lostmind/

As consumers, we love this. As entrepreneurs we find it frustrating.

This same dynamic applies to the labor market. If you have a skill very few others have, you can charge a high price for your labor. However, if your wages are high enough, others will notice the opportunity and begin developing the skills they need to compete with you. If the supply of qualified workers grows faster than the need for the service, wages will fall.

As business owners we love this. As workers we hate it.

On balance efficient markets might work out well for us. The benefits we receive from lower prices and cheaper labor offset the frustrations that come from having to sell our goods and labor at lower prices.

But efficient markets might also fail us personally. If we lose our job, because there’s too much competition for our position, the equation won’t balance in our favor – at least in the short term. And in the long term some people reap more reward from efficient markets than others.

Overall, efficient markets have led to higher standards of living on average. Life spans are up. Physical possessions are up. Entertainment options are up. Education levels are up.

But are we happier?

Maybe. And maybe not. Once upon a time our place in the tribe was secure. Our skills were highly valued, and they would remain that way our whole productive lives. Today our place is not secure. If there’s a lot of competition for our position, we can be replaced with someone better. And there’s almost always someone better.

Today’s worker can be replaced regardless of how hard they work or how good they are.

Not only that, but whole companies can be replaced. If another company comes along and provides a better or cheaper alternative, everyone can be out of a job through no fault of their own.

Whether you own the business, or you work for wages, in the modern world you very likely live your days with a sword of Damocles hanging over your head.

5. Innovation happens faster.

We live in exciting times. New discoveries are being made every year in almost every field of science. New gadgets are being invented every year. And our existing technologies are being improved every year.

It’s well known that computers have been getting faster. Until recently computer clock speeds had doubled roughly every 18 months since computers were first developed. Your smart phone is (much) more powerful than the computers NASA used to run the Apollo Project. There’s reason to think this pace of improvement has slowed, and will continue to slow, but we are finding other ways, such as parallel computing, to keep finding improvements.

Some improvements are happening even faster. The Human Genome Project set out to sequence the human genome in 1989. It took 13 years and 3 Billion dollars to finish.

Toward the end of the Human Genome Project a private company working in parallel reduced the cost in money and time to $200 million and about one year.

Just 15 years later a machine can sequence a genome in less than a day at a teeny fraction of the cost.

Have you heard about 3-D printers? These machines take a 3-D design for a coffee mug or a bracelet, or pretty much any solid object you can imagine, and print them layer by layer out of plastic. Individuals with a sense of design can invent new gadgets all by themselves.

Currently the production models of these printers make objects from a single material. And you can’t print a ham sandwich yet. But Star Trek replicators can’t be that far off.

And did you know that we can now re-grow body parts and organs?
True. A woman recently grew a new ear for herself under the skin of her forearm.

Imagine what would happen if we could combine the 3-D printer technology with the ability to grow new body parts. Then you could print a new liver for yourself in your basement.

You laugh. Check this out.

These are exciting times. But they are also disorienting and turbulent times.

New innovations come along so quickly in part because we have such high degrees of specialization, diversity and market efficiency—three factors mentioned above.

But the influence goes the other way as well. New inventions and discoveries require new specializations. Rapid innovation also contributes to some of the negative effects of the efficient market. Not only can we lose our job. Not only can our company go out of business. But with new technologies, entire industries can be swept away.

If 3-D printing becomes extremely cheap and more versatile (and why wouldn’t it?), all you need is a design you can draw up on your computer (or download from someone else’s computer) plus some raw goo, and you can make nearly anything you want. This cuts out a lot of middle men. Many manufacturing jobs will become obsolete. And many of those workers will need to work very hard to become relevant again.

Not only does rapid innovation make it difficult to keep job skills relevant, it also makes it difficult to stay “in the know”.

Many older folks in their 80s and 90s have not embraced (and likely will not embrace) the internet. When they grew up electric appliances and automobiles were new industries. Many still walked and rode horses as their primary form of transportation in their youth. In many ways they had more in common with the young people in the Roman Empire than they have in common with young people today.

They have been left behind. They are irrelevant. After years of helping to build our world, our world no longer has any use for them. And they don’t understand the world they are leaving behind.

Before you pity them, realize something. Because the pace of innovation is increasing, it’s going to be worse for us. We will one day be even more “out of touch” than our octogenarians are today.

Conclusion

Those are 5 differences between our modern world and life on the savanna. And those 5 differences might go some way toward explaining why there is so much anxiety in the world today.
We could go deeper at this point and explore how each of these factors affect our basic psychological needs. And we could even try to come up with some remedies for our modern maladies. If that interests you, I take up those themes in “Stop Setting Goals That Don’t Make You Happy.”

It is no secret that stress is one of the top complaints of adults—old and young—in the United States. The physical effects of prolonged stress are numerous, including a greater susceptibility to illness, a lack of energy, problems with sleep, headaches, poor judgment, weight gain, depression, anxiety, and a host of other ills. Many people blame prolonged stress for their inability to maintain healthy relationships with family and friends.

So it stands to reason that we need some way to relieve the constant pressure, but, for the most part, we haven’t done a very good job of it. In order to relieve stress, we need to know what is causing it. Further, we need solutions in order to help all of us learn to reduce both the stressors and the pressure as much as possible.

The three main causes of stress today are:

  • Money
  • Work
  • Poor health

It’s probably no surprise that these three great stressors are interrelated. A poor economy puts the highest pressure on those earning less than $50,000 (although people in all income brackets are feeling the strain). High unemployment rates, rising costs of food, gas, and other necessities, and the need to work long hours are all detrimental to inner peace, which can cause negative physical symptoms like those listed above. Whether you’re scraping by from paycheck to paycheck or sweating over high-stakes million dollar deals, these three concerns can take years off your life if you can’t learn to relax, let go, and find inner peace.

Each person deals with stress differently, so finding ways to cope with it are as unique and varied as the people feeling it. Overall, however, each of us needs to learn how to do the following:

  • Learn to let go of things over which you have no control. You can’t control everything, but you can pick your battles.
  • Cultivate gratitude. Being grateful for what you do have—even if it’s not a lot or not what you want forever—is a powerful antidote to stress.
  • Find some way to relax. Twenty minutes of quiet meditation a day is powerful medicine. There’s always some way to scrape together at least twenty minutes to meditate, pray, or lie or sit quietly with your eyes closed listening to relaxing music.

No one ever lay on his deathbed and lamented that he didn’t stress enough about the little, unimportant things. In the end, what will matter most to you: a purpose-filled life of gratitude or a life driven by a sense of lack and worry? The one thing you do have absolute control over is your attitude.

If you are struggling with anxiety, depression, substance abuse issues, or other mental health issues, extra stress is horrifying. It’s time to get help. Visit Houston Behavioral Healthcare Hospital’s Homepage to learn more about the inpatient and outpatient adult programs we offer and to call for a free and confidential assessment today.

Stress

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.

How does stress affect health?

The human body is designed to experience stress and react to it. Stress can be positive, keeping us alert, motivated, and ready to avoid danger. Stress becomes negative when a person faces continuous challenges without relief or relaxation between stressors. As a result, the person becomes overworked, and stress-related tension builds. The body’s autonomic nervous system has a built-in stress response that causes physiological changes to allow the body to combat stressful situations. This stress response, also known as the “fight or flight response”, is activated in case of an emergency. However, this response can become chronically activated during prolonged periods of stress. Prolonged activation of the stress response causes wear and tear on the body – both physical and emotional.

Stress that continues without relief can lead to a condition called distress – a negative stress reaction. Distress can disturb the body’s internal balance or equilibrium, leading to physical symptoms such as headaches, an upset stomach, elevated blood pressure, chest pain, sexual dysfunction, and problems sleeping. Emotional problems can also result from distress. These problems include depression, panic attacks, or other forms of anxiety and worry. Research suggests that stress also can bring on or worsen certain symptoms or diseases. Stress is linked to 6 of the leading causes of death: heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, cirrhosis of the liver, and suicide.

Stress also becomes harmful when people engage in the compulsive use of substances or behaviors to try to relieve their stress. These substances or behaviors include food, alcohol, tobacco, drugs, gambling, sex, shopping, and the Internet. Rather than relieving the stress and returning the body to a relaxed state, these substances and compulsive behaviors tend to keep the body in a stressed state and cause more problems. The distressed person becomes trapped in a vicious circle.

What are the warning signs of stress?

Chronic stress can wear down the body’s natural defenses, leading to a variety of physical symptoms, including the following:

  • Dizziness or a general feeling of “being out of it.”
  • General aches and pains.
  • Grinding teeth, clenched jaw.
  • Headaches.
  • Indigestion or acid reflux symptoms.
  • Increase in or loss of appetite.
  • Muscle tension in neck, face or shoulders.
  • Problems sleeping.
  • Racing heart.
  • Cold and sweaty palms.
  • Tiredness, exhaustion.
  • Trembling/shaking.
  • Weight gain or loss.
  • Upset stomach, diarrhea.
  • Sexual difficulties.

Tips for reducing stress

People can learn to manage stress and lead happier, healthier lives. You may want to begin with the following tips:

  • Keep a positive attitude.
  • Accept that there are events that you cannot control.
  • Be assertive instead of aggressive. Assert your feelings, opinions, or beliefs instead of becoming angry, defensive, or passive.
  • Learn and practice relaxation techniques; try meditation, yoga, or tai-chi.
  • Exercise regularly. Your body can fight stress better when it is fit.
  • Eat healthy, well-balanced meals.
  • Learn to manage your time more effectively.
  • Set limits appropriately and say no to requests that would create excessive stress in your life.
  • Make time for hobbies and interests.
  • Get enough rest and sleep. Your body needs time to recover from stressful events.
  • Don’t rely on alcohol, drugs, or compulsive behaviors to reduce stress.
  • Seek out social support. Spend enough time with those you love.
  • Seek treatment with a psychologist or other mental health professional trained in stress management or biofeedback techniques to learn more healthy ways of dealing with the stress in your life.

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