What is stress?
Stress is the feeling of being under too much mental or emotional pressure. Pressure turns into stress when you feel unable to cope. People have different ways of reacting to stress, so a situation that feels stressful to one person may in fact be motivating to another. Many of life’s demands can cause stress, especially work, relationships and money problems, and when you feel stressed, it can affect everything you do.
Stress is an innate reaction embedded from our caveman days. Humans had to deal with threatening situations, which caused our brains to release a range of ‘stress chemicals’ such as cortisol and adrenaline to provoke what is known as the fight-or-flight reaction. The fight reaction would give us a burst of energy, ready to fight for our lives, while the flight reaction would encourage us to flee from danger and protect ourselves. These days, we rarely encounter threatening situations. However, our brains continue to react in this way when we are under pressure.
Stress can affect how you feel, how you think, how you behave and how your body works. Sleeping problems, sweating, loss of appetite and difficulty concentrating are common signs of stress.
Stress is not itself an illness, but it can cause serious illness if not tackled. It is important to recognise the symptoms of stress early. This will help you figure out ways of coping and save you from adopting unhealthy coping methods, such as drinking or smoking.
Spotting the early signs of stress will also help prevent it worsening and potentially causing serious complications, such as high blood pressure, anxiety and depression. While there is little you can do to prevent stress, there are many things you can do to manage stress more effectively, such as learning how to relax, taking regular exercise and adopting good time management techniques.
Talking with a professional about the difficulties you’re experiencing can help you understand any underlying issues that may be causing your stress – for example, low self-esteem. Working with your counsellor, you will then be able to identify your personal stress triggers and discuss ways of coping with them.