Have you ever found yourself feeling overwhelmed by workload or job responsibilities? Have you ever heard yourself complain about how “stressed” you are feeling? Have you ever noticed the change in your body or emotions while experiencing stress? Stress is a natural human response to the various situations we encounter and each individual experiences it many times in their lifespan. But what exactly is stress and why do we feel it?
We usually use terms like tension, pressure, strain, and worry to describe our experience of stress. Mental health professionals define stress as a negative emotional experience which is accompanied by biological, physiological, cognitive, emotional and behavioral changes in an individual. These changes are either directed towards amending the stressor (the event or thing which is causing the stress) or to adapt to its effects. Stress is often experienced by individuals when they perceive a severe discrepancy between the demands of a situation and the resources they believe they have to deal with it. Researchers have distinguished between two types of stress: 1) Constructive stress, which has been perceived as positive stress, and can be necessary for functioning, and 2) Destructive stress, which has detrimental effects and is usually called distress.
One of the earliest and most popular models explaining stress is Canon’s fight or flight model, which suggests that when an individual feels threatened in the environment, a fight or flight response is generated by their body. This in turn activates their Sympathetic Nervous System, which results in increased blood flow, respiration and decreased activity of the digestive system. Furthermore, in the brain, the center of emotions is activated and the neo-cortex, which is responsible for higher mental functioning, deactivates, causing the person to be more emotional than logical at the time. In this situation, the individual either stays to deal with the stressor upfront (known as the fight response) or they escape the situation using the excessive energy and blood flow provided to the limbs by the body (known as the flight response). When the person no longer feels at threat, the Parasympathetic Nervous System activates to restore normal heart beat and breathing in the body and reactivates the neo-cortex and digestive system, enabling the person to return to their normal state.
Although stress is a natural bodily response, which is necessary for efficient functioning, prolonged exposures can have debilitating effects on the brain, the immune system, the heart and overall physiological functioning of an individual, which might result in various mental and physiological illnesses. Hence, it is necessary to maintain the stability in the body and control stress levels. Various methods to reduce stress have been introduced by professionals over time including several deep breathing exercises, mindfulness techniques, rhythmic exercises and yoga.
Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is one such technique that has been found to reduce negative emotions and stress in individuals. It involves self-regulation of emotions and reactions to stress by attending and noticing the thoughts and feelings being experienced in the present without trying to change or judge them.
When people experience stress, they usually start criticizing themselves and most of the time use derogatory words for themselves. Working on this self-talk by trying to avoid using negative statements for yourself, and actively engaging in positive self-talk and instruction is also an excellent method of managing stress.
Expressing your stress to others by talking or writing has also been proven to reduce stress in individuals. Through various studies, it was found that when people express traumatic events or severely disturbing problems to others, their heart rate and blood pressure decreased; it also had long-term benefits on the individual’s immune system .
Expressing yourself through writing has multiple benefits. Physically writing out your thoughts is a means of releasing unwanted thoughts and negative feelings. Would you like to give writing a shot? How does keeping a journal sound to you? Try it out below:
Robb-Nocholson, C. (n.d.). Writing about emotions may ease stress and trauma. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/writing-about-emotions-may-ease-stress-and-trauma