We all get stressed out from time to time. The feeling manifests in different ways for different people. Symptoms often include insomnia, irritability, fatigue, and can snowball into full-blown panic for some if left unchecked.
Whether we get over it, work through it, act out, or crumble when we’re stressed depends on a variety of factors. Every person learns to cope with stress in his or her own way.
Stress is inherent to the human experience and never really goes away. It’s the body’s reaction to the demands of the world -- the events or conditions of life. While stress is as constant as change, we can improve upon how we cope. You can teach an old dog new tricks, psychologically speaking. So if you get stressed out easily or often, read on. We can’t eliminate stress, but we can learn better ways to react to it.
The way to do this is learning to identify the cause of our stress. Let’s first discuss the two basic types of stress -- acute and chronic.
Acute: Instant reaction to perceived threat, challenge, or scare. This incites what’s known as the “fight or flight or freeze” response; react or run or do nothing. A healthy person typically can handle a single episode without incident. Severe acute stress -- such as a heavy combat experience -- can trigger mental health problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder or a heart attack.
Chronic: Mild acute stress -- such as meeting deadlines or making sure your kids get to school on time everyday -- can be beneficial. This kind of stress can motivate and energize you. But when this kind of low-level stress builds up, it can lead to health problems (headaches, fatigue) and a general lack of joy or happiness.
Before honing in on the core of our stress, let’s distinguish between external exasperations and internal irritations. This helps us better understand where and how stress enters our lives.
External Stress: Life changes, unpredictable events, work, finances, social settings, surroundings/environment.
Tips to Manage: Strategies to cope with this type of stress focus on taking care of the physical body, built to handle stress. Good nutrition, regular exercise, and sufficient sleep boost the body’s resiliency and make this natural stress relief possible. Ask for help and learn how to: be more assertive or laid-back (depending on your situation), develop new ways to approach problems, or better manage your time.
Internal Stress: Fears, beliefs, and uncertainty stir our emotions in ways we don’t realize sometimes, which can compound the impact of external stress.
Tips to Manage: This type of stress is often self-induced, based on expectations, attitudes, and opinions about ourselves, our lives, and others. This is deeply ingrained stuff, much of it shaped in childhood. That means it’s tough not only to change, but to identify this type of stress in the first place. But once you do, you can reframe your thinking, challenge negative thoughts, and learn (literally) how to relax. This isn’t easy, but it’s worth it.
Make a List: Now let’s get to the nitty-gritty. Take a blank sheet of paper and write down the top 10 things you’re stressed out about right now. Look at the list and try to distinguish external stressors from internal ones. Notice how some challenges/issues/problems appear to happen to you, while others seem spring within yourself. Next, prioritize your list to understand what’s most distressing so you can figure out a game plan.
Keep Writing: The simple act of writing out what’s got you stressed can help calm you. Confronting our stress, examining it, and trying to find better ways to cope is half the battle. In fact, new research shows that journaling and blogging are effective ways to work through stress and continue refining how we deal with it. Adult coloring is another new approach to stress relief.
The biggest cause of stress for most Americans in 2015 was money, according to the latest poll by the American Psychological Association. Other common triggers are: jobs, relationships, family obligations, holidays, and people-pleasing.
Stress and its trigger(s) change for each of us individually and collectively as a culture. But again, stress is a part of life. We must think of ourselves as works in progress throughout the course of our lives.