Stress is most widely defined as the body's response to external events that somehow upset one's internal balance or make a person feel threatened. From a biological point of view the effects of stress can be positive, neutral or negative. Stress has many forms and impacts people of all ages, social strata, employment and geographies. It is impossible to predict the stress levels for an individual. Still children, teens, working parents and seniors are among the groups that confront most stress factors related to life transitions.
When feeling threatened, the body starts an automatic process known as the stress response in order to protect the individual. If working properly this mechanism helps one stay alert, focused and energetic. It can even save one's life in emergency situations. At a certain point stress can become dangerous for one's health, relationships, productivity and quality of life. Stress can cause or exacerbate health problems such as high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and depression as well as some autoimmune, digestive, and skin diseases.
External factors that can cause stress include the physical environment such as one's job, relationships, home as well as various situations, difficulties and expectations that a person faces every day. Internal factors define the ability of one's body to respond to and handle the external stress factors. One's ability to deal with stress depends on his or her nutritional status, health and fitness levels, emotional state and the amount of sleep one gets.
Almost anything can be interpreted as a sign or symptom of unhealthy stress levels. As people meet stressful situations, deadlines, frustrations and demand every day, they get too accustomed to stress and may not recognise it at all. In the twenty-first century there are people for whom stress has become a way of life.
Symptoms of stress can be cognitive, emotional, physical or behavioral. Initial symptoms include anxiousness, nervousness, distraction, internal pressure and excessive worry. These symptoms can negatively impact one's outward appearance and make him or her anxious or nervous, distracted, self-absorbed or irritable. More tough emotional and physical consequences of high stress levels include excessive fatigue, headaches, depression, nausea and vomiting, chest pain, dizziness, the feeling of hyperventilation or choking and others. Eating and sleep disorders may also occur as well as isolation, procrastination, alcohol abuse and habits such as nail biting. These symptoms usually last for short periods of time. However, one should seek medical help in case the symptoms become more severe or appear more frequently.
There are some measures that can help one prevent stress. They include realistic goals and limits for a person; stress, time management or anger management classes and regular physical exercise. One can also try not to get upset for matters that are not too important and keep a positive attitude. Regularly performing activities that one enjoys and rewarding oneself for small achievements can also help limit stress.
One should take immediate measures if he or she recognises increased levels of stress. Treatment at home requires the identification of the cause of stress. Sometimes one knows the source, which may be a deadline at school or at work, unpaid bills, relationship difficulties, major life changes and children. In most cases a bunch of small stress factors can produce the same levels of stress caused by a bigger problem. Stress can also appear as a result of past events. This condition is called post-traumatic stress disorder.
If a person knows the cause of stress, distancing from it or directly confronting the situation may help to resolve the issue. Taking time-out is important and can be accomplished by physically removing or mentally distancing oneself from provoking factors or situations. A person needs some time to relax and develop a plan to solve the problem that causes too much stress. Having a plan alone can bring down stress levels.
Outside help, such as conversations with relatives or friends, is necessary when a person is unable to define the cause of stress on their own. If these discussions do not prove successful, one may need to find a doctor or mental health specialist to assist with the task. It is important to also rule out any medical causes of stress.
Medical treatment depends on one's symptoms and their severity. A doctor needs to perform a physical exam in a drive to find any medical problems that cause the stress symptoms. The doctor will seek underlying stress or psychological disorders. Medical treatment can range from simple reassurance to hospitalisation.