Stress can be a challenge to explain, for it means different things to different people. For example, cooking can be a huge stress to some but enjoyable for others. While there is no definitive agreement over what the specific definition of stress should be, the most common definition is “physical, mental or emotional strain or tension.” Another popular definition is “a condition or feeling experienced when a person perceives that external demands exceed the personal and social resources the individual is able to mobilize.” In other words, you feel unable to deal with the demands being made on you and this is causing a negative response within you.
First, let’s tackle the types of negative emotional stress that may be plaguing you. Then we will offer some ways in which you can reduce and manage your stress.
Three Types Of Emotional Stress
Stress management can be complicated and confusing because there are different types of stress, each with its own characteristics, symptoms, duration, and treatment approaches:
- Acute Stress – Acute stress is the most common form of stress and is short-lived. It can be beneficial and create motivation, like cramming for an exam or finishing a report under a deadline. Acute stress is also thrilling and exciting in small doses, but too much is exhausting. Take water skiing, for example. Starting out it is fun and exhilarating. After two hours or more, it becomes tiring and mentally draining. Prolonged acute stress can cause anger or irritability, anxiety, and depression in the short term, but does not carry the extensive damage that prolonged stress carries over the long term.
- Episodic Acute Stress – This type of stress emerges in people who live disordered and chaotic lives – those who suffer acute stress frequently. Always running late but never on time or if something can go wrong, it does, are the hallmarks of people suffering from episodic acute stress. You have seen the type: over-aroused, short-tempered, irritable, tense, and anxious from having too many irons in the fire and making too many self-inflicted demands. Sufferers of episodic acute stress generally have either Type A personalities or are worrywarts – their lifestyles and personalities are so ingrained with this behavior that they often see nothing wrong with the way they live. Such lifestyles can lead to persistent tension headaches, migraines, hypertension, and heart disease.
- Chronic Stress – Chronic stress is the long-term, debilitating stress often seen in individuals suffering from unending poverty, dysfunctional families, despised careers, life in war zones, or unhappy marriages with no way out. Some chronic stresses can stem from traumatic childhood experiences that have created a belief system that causes the stress sufferer to view the world as a threatening place. The person with chronic stress usually sees no end to their miserable situation and gives up searching for solutions. Chronic stress can lead to suicide, violence, heart attacks, stroke, and cancer.
Identify Your Stress Triggers
Once you have identified your level of stress, the next step is to learn what triggers your stress response. A good way to identify your sources of stress is to make a list of situations, concerns, or challenges which elevate your stress levels. Here are some areas to consider:
- External Stressors – major life changes like marriage or the death of a loved one; your environment – noisy, too little light, dangerous neighborhood; unpredictable events – discovering your pay has been cut unexpectedly or uninvited houseguests arriving out of the blue; workplace – endless emails, impossible workload, urgent deadlines; social – meeting new people, going out on a blind date
- Internal Stressors – fears like fear of public speaking or fear of failure; lack of control – not being able to control outcomes in lifelike medical test results; childhood beliefs – a belief system carried over from childhood trauma like not living up to expectations or inadequacy.
When you have spent a few minutes listing some of your stress triggers, you are ready to begin the journey towards reducing and managing your stress.
Reducing and Managing Your Stress
The good news is that all three types of stress can be reduced and managed – either through lifestyle changes for acute stress sufferers to behavioral treatment and stress management for episodic and chronic stress sufferers.
Here are some tips on reducing and managing your degree of stress:
- Make Small Adjustments To Your Lifestyle: If you are not sleeping enough, try to push for 7 to 8 hours of sleep more regularly. Go for a 20-minute walk every day to increase your endorphins. Choose more healthy foods during mealtime and minimize/eliminate caffeine. Schedule mandatory relaxation time, like watching a movie.
- Changes to Your Behavior: Ask for help from friends or colleagues to lighten your load. Learn to be more assertive or practice time management. Include more humor in your day through media or socializing. Create predictability in your home and work life.
- Control Your Thoughts: Challenge your negative thoughts and look for the good in other people and situations. Lower your self-expectations and be kind to yourself.
- Seek Outside Help: Talk with a trusted friend or counselor. Find a support group and air your concerns.
Stress is a part of life and will always be around. The keys to dealing with stress are to know what is stressing you, your physical and psychological responses to that stress, and taking action to make a positive change in your life.