Stress is one of the most commonly shared feelings amongst human beings. We all deal with stress at some point in our lives, some of us more than others and for varying lengths of time. Stress can even be a healthy response to moments and experiences in life that we want to go well. However, for many, the feeling of stress has become a persistent problem that plagues their daily lives.
Stress: A Brief History
We often categorize stress as a negative experience, but there are actually more sides to stress than just one. Eustress (positive stress) is often experienced before a speech, a big event, or any type of important moment in your life that you want to go well (1). Eustress ensures that we prepare and do a good job and typically dissipates once the moment has passed. Another type of stress is known as acute (2) and it typically occurs in short bursts like eustress, but is for negative reasons like waking up late for work, or forgetting an important appointment. The last type of stress is known as chronic stress and it occurs when you are exposed to a high-pressure experience for a long period of time. When chronic stress settles in it can result in feelings of anxiety, depression, or other signs and symptoms of stress, even after the high-pressure experience is over (3).
Our understanding of these different types of stress has evolved over time. In fact, the word stress was most commonly used in psychics (i.e. placing stress on a piece of metal until it snaps) up until the early to mid 1900s when researchers began realizing that humans also responded to stress (4). At first these responses were believed to only be physical, until famous researcher, Hans Selye, discovered that his lab rats were becoming ill not just from the physical stress of his experiments, but also from the emotional distress of undergoing the experiments, proving that stress could be inflicted just as much emotionally as it could physically (5).
The experiments conducted by Seyle is a sad example of chronic stress. If left unmanaged or untreated, chronic stress has the potential to erode away at your health and wellness.
Signs That You’re Struggling with Chronic Stress and Why it’s a Big Deal
Although uncomfortable, dealing with the occasional feelings of stress are manageable. Healthy coping mechanisms and emotional resiliency all play a role in our ability to internally deescalate the stressful hiccups we experience on a daily basis. However, if you struggle with healthy emotional coping and resiliency than small hiccups might feel like major life altering events that keep crashing together. This is chronic stress and it’s a big deal to your overall health and wellness, affecting everything from your sleep to your ability to move. Here are some signs that you’re struggling with chronic stress (3):
rapid, disorganized thoughts
changes in appetite
a perceived loss of control
frequent infections or illnesses
If left unmanaged, chronic stress can cause serious health problems and diseases. Some health problems that have been linked to chronic stress include (1):
High blood pressure
How to Handle Chronic Stress
Despite how it may feel, chronic stress is actually something that you can learn to manage. By building up your emotional resiliency and working on healthy emotional coping skills, you can reduce chronic stress and make a huge difference in your overall health and wellness. Here are some ideas to help you get started:
Track your stress: By keeping a record in the form of a journal or calendar, you start to raise your level of self-awareness regarding your stress levels.
Get familiar with your triggers: Stress doesn't happen in a vacuum. Everyone has places, people, situations, and things that cause them stress, but don't often realize it. By doing a little internal digging you can discover what your stress triggers are and develop plans for each one.
Regularly practice mindfulness: Mindfulness has been shown to reduce stress and its symptoms such as anxiety, physical aches and pains, fatigue, depression, etc. Specifically the usage of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) techniques teach you how to be present with your emotions, thoughts, and feelings without judgement.
Exercise: Exercise is one of the most effective ways to reduce stress by increasing feel-good hormones, improving your sleep, raising self-esteem, and releasing muscle tension. Just 10 minutes a day of moderate activity is enough to feel a difference in your stress levels.
Practice breathing: By becoming more aware of your breath, especially during stressful moments, you can learn how to slow and deepen it to help you quickly calm down. This technique is also effective for managing depression.
Spend some time on you: Regularly engaging in activities that make you feel content has been shown to reduce stress. Make sure to schedule in some daily "you time", even if it's just 10 minutes a day with your favorite book.
Managing chronic stress can feel like a big mountain to climb. We want you to know you’re not alone. In recognition of December being National Stress-Free Holiday Month, St. Andrew’s Family Fitness Plus is offering free Stress Management Workbooks titled, Create Balance. Inside each workbook you will find the tools to help you create a realistic stress management goal and several worksheets that will guide you through effective MBSR techniques, help you identify your triggers and symptoms of stress, and track your progress. Download your free copy of the Create Balance workbook by clicking here.
Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2021, July 8). Chronic stress puts your health at risk. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved December 9, 2021, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress/art-20046037
Everything You Need to Know About Stress. (2020, February 25). [web log]. Retrieved December 9, 2021, from https://www.healthline.com/health/stress.
Kandola, A. (2018, October 12). What are the Health Effects of Chronic Stress? [web log]. Retrieved December 9, 2021, from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323324.
History of Stress. Centre for Studies on Human Stress . (2017, August 17). Retrieved December 10, 2021, from https://humanstress.ca/stress/what-is-stress/history-of-stress/.
Kennard, J. (2018, November 6). A Brief History of the Term Stress [web log]. Retrieved December 9, 2021, from https://www.healthcentral.com/article/a-brief-history-of-the-term-stress.