Coping with Stress

Coping with Stress
Written By: Counselling Psychologist
Reviewed By: Counselling Psychologist
MA Psychology Pennsylvania State University, USA
Last Updated: 22-03-2024

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What is Stress & How to Deal with Different Types of Stress

Stress is the result of how we respond to stressful situations or challenges. It typically occurs when we feel helpless or uncontrollable in a situation. It sets off a series of bodily and mental responses meant to assist people in managing the demands of the situation. While stress can be helpful in small amounts, enabling people to perform well under pressure and get through challenging situations, chronic or excessive stress can be harmful to both physical and mental health.

Controlling the impacts of stress on one s physical and mental health requires a variety of strategies to cope. In the beginning, it is essential to identify the exact stressors in one s life, regardless of their origin—work, relationships, health issues, or other factors.

Creating healthy patterns that include regular exercise, a balanced diet, and enough sleep can help reduce the negative effects of stress on the body. Relaxation methods that decrease physiological arousal, which include progressive muscle relaxation, deep breathing, and meditation, can help people feel more at ease.

Setting realistic objectives and prioritizing tasks constitute effective time management strategies that can help you stay in control while avoiding feeling overwhelmed. Asking friends, family, or support groups for social support can provide both practical help and emotional validation.

What is Stress?

Stress is a physiological and psychological reaction to someone experiencing more than they can handle in terms of a threat, challenge, or demand. It s a normal aspect of life and can be brought on by a number of things, such as relationships, employment, financial strain, or significant life changes. Stress can result from both positive and negative situations, such as starting a new job or getting married, even though it is typically linked to unpleasant experiences. 

Stress can manifest in a variety of ways, such as: 

  • An individual, for instance, when they are overburdened with obligations and find it difficult to manage them
  • a member of a group, for instance, if your family is experiencing a difficult time, like a death in the family or financial difficulties
  • Being part of your community, for instance, if you are a member of a discriminated-against religious group
  • A member of the public, for instance, during crises like the coronavirus pandemic or natural disasters
  • There s a chance that everyone in the larger group will experience stress in a different way. Even if the same thing is causing stress, this can still happen.

Why is Stress Management Important? 

You may be happier, healthier, and more productive when you eliminate the negative effects that stress has on your life with the support of effective stress management. The ultimate goal is a balanced existence that includes time for relationships, work, leisure, and enjoyment as well as the fortitude to face obstacles head-on and persevere under stress. Stress management is essential for a number of reasons, including maintaining of one s physical and mental health:

  1. Benefits to Your Health: Prolonged stress has been associated with a number of health conditions, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, digestive problems, decreased immunity, and mental health conditions like anxiety and depression. Good stress management can lower the chance of getting certain illnesses and increase general well-being.
  2. Enhanced Coping abilities: Resilience and adaptive coping abilities are developed through learning healthy stress management techniques. People who are efficient at managing their stress are better able to face obstacles in life and overcome difficulties.
  3. Healthier Relationships: Stress may increase tension, impatience, and conflict in relationships. Effective stress management improves a person s ability to communicate, manage conflict in a constructive way, and maintain stronger bonds with other people.
  4. Improved Performance: Prolonged stress can negatively impact one s ability to focus, think clearly, and make decisions. As a result, people may do less well at job, school, or in other spheres of life. Performance and productivity can be maximized with help of stress management strategies like goal-setting, time management, and relaxation.
  5. Improved Quality of Life: Prolonged stress can lower happiness, contentment, and satisfaction, which can reduce overall quality of life. People can have higher levels of resilience, happiness, and general life satisfaction by managing stress well.
  6. Prevent Burnout: Prolonged exposure to stresses, especially in high-pressure situations at work, can result in burnout, a state of physical, emotional, and mental tiredness. Burnout can be prevented by managing chronic stress. A better work-life balance and the avoidance of burnout are two benefits of effective stress management.
  7. Longevity: Prolonged stress has been connected to a decreased lifespan and faster aging. People may enhance their overall health and raise their chances of living longer, healthier lives by practicing efficient stress management.

In today s fast-paced environment, effective stress management is critical to maintaining general health and well-being. The negative impact that stress has on an individual s physical, emotional, and mental health can be reduced by developing appropriate coping mechanisms. Preventing the onset of serious health issues like anxiety disorders, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease is one of the main advantages of stress management. Through reducing the physiological and psychological impacts of stress, people can reduce their likelihood of developing chronic health issues.

Different Types of Stress

Stress comes from challenging circumstances, whether they be internal or external. In response to potential threats, the body triggers the fight-or-flight response, preparing people to deal with the stressor. However, managing distress can be extremely difficult, and long-term exposure can be harmful to one s physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Based on its duration, severity, and source, stress can be divided into several forms. These are a few typical forms of stress:

  • Acute Stress: Usually brought on by abrupt stresses or difficulties, acute stress is a brief state. Managing an unexpected dispute, making a presentation, or meeting a deadline are a few examples. When the stressor is eliminated or the situation is addressed, acute stress is a normal and adaptive response that normally goes away.
  • Chronic Stress: This type of stress persists for a long time and can be brought on by ongoing issues such as money problems, pressures at work, strained relationships, or long-term health issues. In contrast to acute stress, chronic stress may not be quickly resolved and, if neglected, may have negative impacts on one s physical and emotional well-being.
  • Eustress: Also referred to as "positive stress," eustress is the stress caused on by challenges or positive experiences. A few instances are taking on a new career, getting married, or aiming for personal objectives. Most people believe that eustress is controllable and that it can result in feelings of excitement, drive, and personal development.
  • Distress: The most prevalent kind of stress is called distress, which is defined as unpleasant or negative stress brought on by perceived challenges, obstacles or misfortune. When uncontrolled, distress can take many different forms, such as worry, frustration, anger, or grief, and it can be harmful to one s physical and mental health.
  • Psychological stress: resulting from internal factors, such as ideas, opinions, perceptions, or emotional responses, is referred to as psychological stress. Some instances include self-doubt, being overwhelmed by responsibilities, and worrying about the future. Psychological stress has significant adverse effects on mental health and may be a factor in the development of diseases like depression or anxiety disorders.
  • Physiological stress: The term "physiological stress" describes how the body responds physiologically to perceived stresses or threats. The "fight-or-flight" response, which includes the production of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, may be one way to do this. Although this reaction is necessary for survival in life-threatening circumstances, prolonged awakening of physiological stress reactions can have detrimental effects on health.
  • Environmental Stress: Stressors resulting from external factors affecting one s surroundings, such as traffic, pollution, noise, or socioeconomic conditions, are referred to as environmental stressors. Environmental stressors can significantly affect one s physical and emotional well-being, especially if one lacks the ability or coping skills to manage them.

What are the causes of stress?

Individuals respond to stressful events in different ways. Almost any situation has the potential to produce stress, and what is stressful for one person may not be unpleasant for another. Some people get stressed with just thinking about a trigger or a few less triggers. Stress can have many different causes for different people, and these sources can include:

  1. Major Life Changes: Because they consist of adjustments and unidentified factors, major life events like moving to a new city, beginning a new job, getting married, divorcing, experiencing a loss, or having a child can be stressful.
  2. Work or School: Stress can be caused by a variety of factors, including heavy workloads, strict deadlines, job uncertainty, disagreements with coworkers or classmates, and high academic requirements.
  3. Relationships: Stress can be greatly increased by problems in interpersonal relationships, whether they involve friends, family, love partners, or workplace.
  4. Traumatic Events: Being exposed to traumatic events, such as abuse, violence, accidents, or disasters caused by nature, can result in long-term psychological effects in addition to the acute stress reactions.
  5. Daily Hassles: Small problems and disappointments from day-to-day living, such traffic difficulties, housework, or problems with technology, can add up and raise stress levels.
  6. Financial Stressors: Struggling to make ends meet or dealing with loans, unemployment, or job loss can all be very stressful financially.
  7. Health Issues: Managing an illness, mistake, persistent illness, or taking care of someone who is ill can be stressful on the body and mind, which can result in stress.
  8. Uncertainty and Change: Because problems put one s sense of stability and predictability in danger, worries about the future, routine adjustments, or uncertainty in personal or professional situations can all be stressful.
  9. Pressure to Succeed and Perfectionism: When mixed with societal or external expectations, internal demands to succeed at all costs, reach high standards, or achieve perfection can be extremely stressful.
  10. Environmental Factors: Living in dangerous or unstable situations, noise pollution, crowded areas, and other environmental stressors can all raise stress levels.

Long-term stress that is not well managed can result in a range of more serious health issues, such as depression, high blood pressure, irregular pulse (arrhythmia), arterial hardening, or atherosclerosis Heartburn, ulcers, heart disease, heart attack, irritable bowel syndrome, upset stomach – cramps, diarrhea, and constipation, Gaining or losing weight, alterations in sex desire, issues with fertility, flare-ups of rheumatism or asthma, Skin conditions like psoriasis, eczema, and acne.

A research was conducted in 2018) which stated that the teenage years are crucial since they bring about a lot of changes in a young person s life. It is expected that they will be the social elites. In order to have healthy lives once they are integrated into society, individuals need therefore to improve their stress management skills. A youngster must not only adapt to a new life and environment when they reach youth age, but also become acquainted with a plethora of unfamiliar individuals, occasions, and objects. They are under a lot of stress in their lives. Therefore, it is crucial to comprehend where their stress comes from and how they manage it.

The study discovered that the primary causes of stress are job exploration, life transitions, interpersonal interactions, relationship issues, and academic exams. Usually, this kind of stress results in behavioral, physically, and psychological issues. This study examines the reasons behind youth stress. Thus, the researcher proposes that after determining the causes, the child s developmental stage into puberty should receive greater attention. They ought to grow up in an atmosphere of joy. By reducing the negative impacts of stressors, a hostile learning environment should be created and outside activities ought to get more attention. The results will benefit individual students, academics, instructors, career centers, and counseling services. 

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Stress?

A number of symptoms that are emotional, mental, behavioral, and physical can all be signs of stress. A wide range of stress symptoms are as follows:

Physical symptoms:

  • Muscle Tension: One of the most prominent signs of stress is persistent muscle tension, particularly in the shoulders, back, and neck.
  • Headaches: Tension headaches and migraines, which are characterized by a pulsing or dull, aching pain in the head, can be caused by stress.
  • Fatigue: Despite getting enough sleep, feeling worn out, drained, or lacking in energy may be an indication of stress overload.
  • Insomnia: Sleep problems brought on by stress may manifest as difficulties going to sleep, staying asleep, or maintaining restful sleep patterns.
  • Digestive Problems: Stress can have an impact on the digestive system, resulting in symptoms such as indigestion, nausea, diarrhea, or constipation.
  • Changes in Appetite: A change in appetite can result in overeating or undereating, which can cause weight gain or loss. Stress can trigger these changes in appetite.
  • Elevated Heart Rate: Stress triggers the body s "fight-or-flight" reaction, which raises blood pressure and heart rate.
  • Weakened Immune System: Prolonged or chronic stress can lower immunity, increasing a person s susceptibility to diseases and infections.

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Difficulty concentrating: Stress may affect cognitive function, making it difficult to concentrate, focus, or recall knowledge. This can lead to difficulty focusing.
  • Memory Issues: Stress-related cognitive problems can lead to forgetfulness, memory lapses, or trouble recalling facts.
  • Racing Thoughts: Stress can cause persistent anxieties, racing thoughts, or fixation on unpleasant experiences or fears.
  • Reduced Decision-Making Ability: Stress can cause confusion, hesitancy, or resistance to making decisions, which can all be signs of poor decision-making.

Emotional symptoms:

  • Anxiety: Common emotional signs of stress include feelings of uneasiness, concern, or trepidation. This could show up as panic episodes, phobias, or overall anxiety.
  • Depression: Stress-related depression may be indicated by enduring emotions of sadness, despair, or loss of interest in once enjoyed activities.
  • Irritability: Stress can increase a person s irritability, temper, or ability to become easily frustrated, which can cause problems in interpersonal interactions or relationships.
  • Mood Swings: Stress can cause mood swings, which include abrupt shifts between intense emotions like happiness, sadness, anger, or disinterest.
  • Feeling Overwhelmed: Feelings of overwhelm, helplessness, or uncontrollability can result from stress overload.

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Alterations in Sleep Patterns: Stress can lead to insomnia, excessive sleeping, or problems with both the duration and the quality of sleep.
  • Social Withdrawal: Stress can cause social withdrawal, which is the avoidance of social situations, social disengagement, or isolation.
  • Increased Substance Use: As a coping strategy for stress management, some people get addicted to alcohol, cigarettes, or other substances, which can result in an increase in substance use or abuse.
  • Procrastination: Feelings of overwhelm or worry can cause people to put off activities or responsibilities, which is a form of avoidance behavior brought on by stress.
  • Restlessness or Agitation: Elevated stress levels may be followed with feelings of restlessness, agitation, or an inability to relax.

The first step to properly managing stress and promoting general well-being is by recognizing these indicators of stress. Getting help from loved ones, friends, or mental health specialists can help you create constructive coping mechanisms to deal with the symptoms of stress.

A research was conducted (1993) in which aimed to evaluate the psychophysiological stress-relieving effects of deep abdominal breathing and progressive relaxation in contrast with hypnosis and a baseline condition, while controlling for hypnotizability. In Session 1, 231 nursing students underwent the baseline procedure and progressive relaxation; in Session 2, which took place approximately a week later, they engaged in deep abdominal breathing and hypnosis. Peripheral skin temperature and pulse rate were measured prior to and following each procedure. Progressive relaxation and hypnosis raised skin temperature and lowered pulse rate, respectively, according to independent analyses of variance calculated for the first and second sets of procedures. These findings suggested decreased psychophysiological responsiveness. Skin temperature, or physiological responsivity, was significantly lower after deep abdominal breathing than it was at baseline. The psychophysiological measures were not impacted by hypnotic susceptibility.

Effective Coping Mechanisms for Stress

Individuals who have the ability to cope effectively with stressful or traumatic events (and the potential long-term effects these episodes may have) may be at a lower risk of experiencing anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues as a result of difficult or unpleasant experiences. A variety of techniques that address the mental, emotional, behavioral, and physical components of stress are included in effective coping mechanisms for stress. Here is a detailed explanation:

Emotional Coping Mechanisms:

  • Mindfulness meditation: Increase present-moment awareness, reduce rumination, and develop a sense of peace and acceptance by engaging in mindfulness meditation or mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) practices.
  • Journaling: Processing stresses, getting perspective, and coming up with coping mechanisms can all be therapeutically accomplished by keeping a journal in which one can express thoughts, feelings, and concerns.
  • Seeking Social Support: During stressful times, reaching out to encouraging friends, family, or support groups can provide emotional validation, useful help, and a feeling of community.
  • Expressive Arts: Creating art can be a way to express oneself, relieve stress, and achieve emotional release. Examples of creative expression include painting, writing, music, and dance.
  • Cognitive restructuring: Reframing stressful situations in a more positive way, self-compassion exercises, and challenging negative thought patterns can all help reduce emotional discomfort and foster resilience.

Physical Coping Mechanisms:

  • Regular Exercise: By releasing endorphins, boosting mood, and encouraging relaxation, physical activity such as walking, jogging, yoga, or swimming can help reduce stress.
  • Deep Breathing Exercises: By engaging the body s relaxation response, deep breathing exercises like diaphragmatic breathing or belly breathing help lower stress and physiological arousal.
  • Progressive Muscle Relaxation: This technique helps reduce tension, ease tightness in the muscles, and encourage relaxation by gradually tensing and relaxing various body parts.
  • Sufficient Sleep: You may enhance the quality of your sleep and reduce your stress levels by practicing relaxation techniques before bed, making a sleep-friendly environment, and establishing a regular sleep schedule.
  • Good Nutrition: Eating a diet full of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, and balanced carbohydrates can promote general health and supply essential nutrients for managing stress.

Behavioral Coping Mechanisms:

  • Assertive Communication: Reducing interpersonal tension and improving relationships can be accomplished by assertively expressing views, feelings, and needs, creating boundaries, and standing up for oneself.
  • Healthy Boundaries: Preventing burnout and maintaining balance can be achieved by setting boundaries in both personal and professional relationships, saying no to unwarranted demands, and giving self-care first priority.
  • Engaging Up Hobbies: Hobbies, interests, or leisure pursuits that make you happy and fulfilled can serve as a pleasant diversion from stress and encourage relaxation.
  • Exposure to Nature: Engaging in outdoor activities, such hiking, gardening, or park walks, may reduce stress levels, elevate mood, and establish a sense of connection with the natural world.
  • Seeking Professional Assistance: Seeking assistance from a therapist, counselor, or mental health professional can offer direction, affirmation, and extra coping mechanisms customized to each person s requirements when stress becomes overwhelming or chronic.

Cognitive Coping Mechanisms:

  • Problem-Solving Skills: Stressors can be addressed and a sense of control can be restored by using problem-solving strategies including brainstorming, coming up with other ideas, and breaking things down into manageable steps.
  • Time management: Time management techniques can help you feel less overwhelmed and be more productive. These techniques include prioritizing your work, creating realistic objectives, and using time-management tools like calendars and to-do lists.
  • Positive Visualization: You can develop optimism, confidence, and resilience in the face of stress by visualizing success, focusing on your strengths, and visualizing positive results.
  • Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR): By engaging in mindfulness exercises like body scans, mindful walking, and mindful breathing, one can become more aware of both internal and external events and become less susceptible to stress.
  • Laughter and Humor: Laughing it up, telling jokes to others, or doing laughter yoga can all help release stress, change one s viewpoint, and enhance emotional health.

A therapist or other mental health expert can frequently help you develop and enhance your coping skills if you suffer stress and are unaware of how to manage it. In addition to offering online counselling support and knowledge about coping mechanisms, therapists can create a secure, accepting atmosphere in which clients can examine the coping mechanisms they use and assess how well or effectively they assist stress management.

Reference

  • Baker, D. B. (1985). The study of stress at work. Annual review of public health, 6(1), 367-381.
  • Bhargava, D., & Trivedi, H. (2018). A study of causes of stress and stress management among youth. IRA-International Journal of Management & Social Sciences, 11(03), 108-117.
  • Boonstra, R. (2013). Reality as the leading cause of stress: rethinking the impact of chronic stress in nature. Functional Ecology, 27(1), 11-23.
  • Forbes, E. J., & Pekala, R. J. (1993). Psychophysiological effects of several stress management techniques. Psychological Reports, 72(1), 19-27.
  • Greenberg, N., Carr, J. A., & Summers, C. H. (2002). Causes and consequences of stress. Integrative and Comparative Biology, 42(3), 508-516.
  • Mawardi, B. H. (1979). Satisfactions, dissatisfactions, and causes of stress in medical practice. Jama, 241(14), 1483-1486.
  • Michie, S. (2002). Causes and management of stress at work. Occupational and environmental medicine, 59(1), 67-72.
  • Montgomery, C., & Rupp, A. A. (2005). A meta-analysis for exploring the diverse causes and effects of stress in teachers. Canadian Journal of Education/Revue canadienne de l éducation, 458-486.
  • Olivier, M. A. J., & Venter, D. J. L. (2003). The extent and causes of stress in teachers in the George region. South African journal of education, 23(3), 186-192.
  • Schwartz, A. J., Black, E. R., Goldstein, M. G., Jozefowicz, R. F., & Emmings, F. G. (1987). Levels and causes of stress among residents. Academic Medicine, 62(9), 744-53.
  • Smollan, R. K. (2015). Causes of stress before, during and after organizational change: a qualitative study. Journal of Organizational Change Management, 28(2), 301-314.

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