Have you ever thought to yourself: “I am really struggling with life”?
Learning to recognise and manage stress can help you to cope better with the demands of everyday life!
Stress is not an illness. However, many illnesses can be caused by stress.
What Causes Stress?
Stressors generate stress. Whenever a physical or psychological/emotional demand is made on us, we experience stress. Despite this, stress is not always bad.
Stress is inevitable and it is one of the most common words mentioned in media and everyday life today. Whether we want to admit it or not, stress is an integral part of our life. Whenever we feel tensed and anxious, we are experiencing stress.
Everything around us, including the areas of politics, work, family, personal, even spiritual life, are competitive and potential source of stress and anxiety. Even positive life experiences and changes such as a promotion at work, buying a house, or having a child bring stress in our life. Only dead people are completely stress free.
What is Stress?
Stress is the absolutely normal reaction in our body when changes happen; the stress response to these changes impact us physically, mentally and emotionally.
Prolonged or severe stress can bring quite negative effects, and is associated with increased risk of multiple health problems.
Common Effects of Stress on Mental and Physical Health:
- Concentration and memory problems.
- Alcohol, tobacco and other drug use/misuse and dependence;
- Muscle spasms and muscle pains;
- Heart problems;
- Irritable bowel syndrome.
Intense or prolonged stress can also increase the risk of serious disease such as:
- Cardiovascular: Angina pectoris and myocardial infarction, heart attack, hypertension, cardiac arrhythmia, brain vascular accidents.
- Skin problems: Itching, psoriasis, herpes.
- Locomotive apparatus: Muscle contraction, fibromyalgia.
- Hormonal: Obesity, thyroid disorders, sexual dysfunction (menstrual cycle problems or impotence).
- Immune: Auto-immune diseases, allergies, such as asthma, etc.
- Digestive: Gastritis and gastro-duodenal ulcers, diarrhoea, irritable bowel syndrome.
- Psychiatric: Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
- Neurological: Tension headaches, etc.
Warning Signs of Stress
Here are some of the warning signs that you may be struggling under a burden of stress:
- Sleep problems (problems with getting to sleep and/or staying asleep).
- Constantly feeling tired.
- Poor concentration.
- Poor appetite.
- Muscle tension or pain.
- Feeling touchy / being jumpy.
- Over-reacting to small things.
- Feeling anxious or fearful.
- Over-use of alcohol or cigarettes.
- Misuse of prescribed drugs.
While people often say ‘what does not kill you makes you stronger’, past stressful experiences do not create resilience to future trauma, according to a recent study at Bond University. Past stressors sensitize people to future traumas, thereby increasing their chances of developing a mental health disorder in the future.
A Scale of Life Events and Stress
Many years ago, two American doctors, T.H. Holmes and R.H. Rahe compiled the following table of stressful events. It seems that change itself is stressful –moving house, getting married, redundancy, etc – regardless of whether the change is regarded as favourable or unfavourable.
Death of spouse
Death of a close relation
Personal injury or illness
Loss of a job
Illness in the family
Birth of a child
Change in financial state
Child leaving home
Trouble with the boss
Change in sleep habits
Life Change Units
Although people often believe that stress is an exclusively modern phenomenon, stress is not a late 20th Century or 21st Century invention; it has always been part of human existence and life without stress would be boring.
Actually, as a former athlete, I can tell you that some stress is beneficial and can have a positive effect. Without stress, there would be no great results in sport and in life generally.
The problem arises when people experience too much of stress for a prolonged period of time. In sports, it is known as being “overtrained”. Just as being “undertrained” is not good and will not bring the results, being “overtrained” will destroy what (through training) has already been done. Tension and arousal are necessary for enjoyment in life. Stress also provides the sense of urgency and alertness when confronted with life threatening situations.
As everyone is different, there is no single level of stress that fits to all people. Some individuals are more sensitive to stress than others, due to their childhood and upbringing, as well as the influence of school teachers, parents, religion, etc.
Most of the stress we experience is self-generated. Self-generated stress is a bit of paradox, because most people think and believe that stress is something cause by external causes, but we create most of our upsets and if we can learn to understand and accept it, that’s the first step towards coping with them.
Effective stress management aims to help you get the stress in your life under your control. The good news is that stress can be managed; it can be reduced and kept at a level that is useful rather than harmful.
Are you Struggling with Stress?
To reduce the impact of stress on your health and wellbeing, so that you can cope better with the demands of everyday life, start by believing that that you can be fit, healthy and free of illness!
There are many things you can do to better manage your stress, such as eating well and exercising regularly. However if you are not sure where to begin, or would like some assistance with motivation, please make an appointment with me as I would love to help you take control of the stress and anxieties in your life.
Author: Nenad Bakaj, MHumServ (RehabCouns), BSocWk, DipAppSci (Comm&HumServ), AMHSW, MAAC, MAASW, JP (Qld)
Nenad Bakaj is a Brisbane based Clinical Counsellor, Accredited Mental Health Social Worker, Life Coach and Bigger Bite Out Of Life Trainer with a keen interest in positive psychology, mental health and wellbeing, and is continually developing his professional skills and knowledge. Nenad enjoys working with adolescents and young adults, as well as older clients, and feels it is a privilege to be able to support them. In the counselling room, Nenad aims to build rapport with his clients to assist them to reach their health, relationship, personal and life goals, and a happy and fruitful life.
To make an appointment try Online Booking. Alternatively, you can call M1 Psychology Loganholme on (07) 3067 9129 or Vision Psychology Wishart on (07) 3088 5422.
- Ashfield, J. (2011) Taking Care of Yourself and Your Family, 11th ed. Beyond Blue
- Harrold, G (2007) De-Stress Your Life, Orion Books, UK
- Montgomery, B & Evans, L (1995) You and Stress, Penguin Group
- Understanding Stress (1999), Geddes & Grosset