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Stress: How Your Body Copes With It All

Stress is a normal part of life. Everyone feels stressed from time to time. We all talk about stress and how stressed we are, but do we actually know what stress is all about?

Stress shows up in different forms, Eustress (the good stress which motivates one and helps one to be more productive). Another example of good stress is what you may feel when taking a test or interviewing for a new job. Stress can even be life-saving in some situations- In response to danger, your body prepares to face a threat or flee to safety. In these situations, your pulse quickens, you breathe faster, your muscles tense, your brain uses more oxygen and increases activity—(all functions aimed at survival) and distress (the ‘bad’ stress).

A stressor may be a one time or short term occurrence, or it can be an occurrence that keeps happening over a long period of time with its consequent risks. A stressor may be-

  1. In the environment (For example; weather, noise, crowding, pollution, traffic, unsafe and substandard housing and crime)
  2. Social stressors( Example; demands of the different social roles we play such as parent, spouse, caregiver, financial challenges, loss of a loved one, divorce, etc)
  3. Physiological (Example; rapid growth of adolescence, menopause, illness, aging, giving birth, lack of exercise, poor nutrition, sleep disturbances, etc),
  4. Thoughts (one’s brain interprets and perceives situations as stressful, difficult, painful or pleasant. Basically our thoughts determine if a situation (even if stress provoking), can pose as a challenge/threat to us.

When overwhelmed by stress people commonly respond/deal with it in these 3 ways:

  1. An angry or agitated stress response- one may feel hated, keyed up, overly emotional and unable to sit still.
  2. A withdrawn or depressed response- one shuts down and shows little energy or emotion.
  3. Both- A tense and yet frozen stress response- one ‘freezes’ under pressure and feels like they can’t do anything.

Health problems can occur if the stress response goes on for too long or becomes chronic, such as when the source of stress is constant, or if the response continues after the danger has subsided. Routine stress may be the hardest type of stress to notice at first. Because the source of stress tends to be more constant than in cases of acute or traumatic stress, the body gets no clear signal to return to normal functioning. Over time, continued strain on your body from routine stress may contribute to serious health challenges-  the body’s way of trying to draw your attention or to cope with this continuous condition. Heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and other illnesses, as well as mental disorders like depression or anxiety are a far reaching results of this.

Common warning signs and symptoms of stress:

a.       Cognitive b.      Emotional c.       Physical d.      Behavioural
1 Memory problems Moodiness Aches/ pains/ muscle tension Eating more or less
2 Inability to concentrate Irritability Diarrhoea/constipation Sleeping too much or too little
3 Poor judgement Agitation/Unable to relax Nausea/ dizziness/ butterflies in the stomach Isolating self from others
4 Seeing only negatives Feeling overwhelmed Chest pain/rapid heartbeat Procrastinating
5 Anxious Sense of lowliness Loss of sex drive/libido Use of alcohol/ cigarettes/drugs to relax
6 Constant worrying Depression Shallow breathing and sweating Nervous habits ( Nail biting/pacing up and down)


Please note that these signs and symptoms above can also be caused by other psychological and medical problems. If you are experiencing any of these warning signs of stress, it is important to see a doctor for an evaluation. Your doctor can help you determine if it is stress related.

There are ways to manage stress:

The effects of stress tend to build up over time. Taking practical steps to manage your stress can reduce or prevent these effects.

The following are some tips that may help you to cope with stress:

  • Recognize the Signs of your body’s response to stress, such as difficulty sleeping, increased alcohol and other substance use, being easily angered, feeling depressed, and having low energy.
  • Talk to Your Doctor or Health Care Provider. Get proper health care for existing or new health problems.
  • Get Regular Exercise. Just 30 minutes per day of walking can help boost your mood and reduce stress. Fruits and vegetables intake with supplements like magnasium, selenium and zinc are very helpful.
  • Try a Relaxing Activity. Explore stress coping programs, which may incorporate meditation, yoga, tai chi, or other gentle exercises. Other methods include breathing exercises(deep breathing), progressive relaxation, stretching and sleeping.
  • Set Goals and Priorities. Decide what must get done and what can wait, and learn to say no to new tasks if they are putting you into overload. Note what you have accomplished at the end of the day, not what you have been unable to do.
  • Stay connected with people who can provide emotional and other support. To reduce stress, ask for help from friends, family, and community or religious organizations.
  • If you’re overwhelmed by stress, ask for help from a health professional. You should seek help right away if you have suicidal thoughts, are overwhelmed, feel you cannot cope, or are using drugs or alcohol to cope. Your doctor may be able to provide a recommendation. You may need a psychologist or behavioural therapist as the case may require.

For some stress-related conditions, these approaches are used in addition to other forms of treatment. Schedule regular times for these and other healthy and relaxing activities.

Stress is nothing to be taken lightly and something to be adressed as soon as possible. It’s best not to ignore any signs you see and feel as severe effects of stress could be fatal.