Everyone experiences stress. Our bodies are designed to feel stress and react to it. It keeps us alert and ready to avoid danger. But, when stress persists, the body begins to break down and illnesses, like headaches and migraines, can occur. The key to coping with stress is identifying stressors in your life, learning ways to reduce stress, and managing stress.
What Is Stress?
Stress is your reaction to any change that requires you to adjust or respond. It's important to remember that you can control stress, because stress comes from how you respond to stressful events.
What Causes Stress?
Stress can be caused by anything that requires you to adjust to a change in your environment. Your body reacts to these changes with physical, mental, and emotional responses. We all have our own ways of coping with change, so the causes of stress can be different for each person.
Common causes of stress include:
- Death of a loved one
- Heavy traffic
- Legal problems
- Job loss
- New job
- Money problems
When you are not sure of the exact cause of your stress, it may help to know the warning signs of stress. Once you can identify these signs, you can learn how your body responds to stress. Then you can take steps to reduce it.
What Are the Warning Signs of Stress?
Your body sends out physical, emotional, and behavioral warning signs of stress.
Emotional warning signs of stress include:
- Inability to concentrate
- Unproductive worry
- Frequent mood swings
Physical warning signs of stress include:
- Stooped posture
- Sweaty palms
- Chronic fatigue
- Weight gain or loss
Behavioral warning signs of stress include:
- Acting on impulse
- Using alcohol or drugs
- Withdrawing from relationships
- Changing jobs often
How Can I Cope With Stress?
- Have realistic expectations; accept that there are events you cannot control.
- Ask others to help or assist you.
- Take responsibility for the situation.
- Engage in problem solving.
- Express distressing emotions. Be assertive instead of aggressive. "Assert" your feelings, opinions, or beliefs instead of becoming angry, combative, or passive.
- Maintain emotionally supportive relationships.
- Maintain emotional composure.
- Challenge previously held beliefs that are no longer adaptive.
- Directly attempt to change the source of stress.
- Distance yourself from the source of stress.
- Learn to relax.
- Eat and drink sensibly.
- Stop smoking or other bad habits.
- Exercise regularly.
- Maintain a healthy sense of self-esteem.
Experts agree that coping is a process rather than an event. Thus, an individual may alternate between several of the above coping strategies in order to cope with a stressful event.
When Should I Seek Help for Managing Stress?
You should seek help in dealing with your stress when you experience any of the following:
- Marked decline in work/school performance
- Excess anxiety
- Alcohol or drug abuse
- Inability to cope with demands of daily life
- Irrational fears
- Obsessive preoccupation with food and fear of becoming obese with no relationship to actual body weight
- Significant change in sleeping or eating habits
- Persistent physical ailments and complaints
- Suicidal thoughts or urges to hurt others
- Self-mutilation, self-destructive or dangerous behavior
- Sustained withdrawn mood or behavior
Where Do I Go to Get Help Managing Stress?
- Your personal doctor: They can determine if your stress is due to an anxiety disorder, a medical condition, or both and can refer you to a mental health professional, if necessary.
- If it is an emergency, call a crisis hotline, or go to the nearest emergency room.