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November 21st, 2016
Stress is felt when we feel threatened, or when we don't believe we have the coping mechanisms to deal with a given situation. Signs of stress include exhaustion, sleep problems, headaches, dizziness, digestive problems, and in some cases resorting to unhealthy coping mechanisms such as binge drinking, or worse.
Stress can be a contributing factor in cases of disease or illness. It takes its toll on the body if managed ineffectively. Prolonged and mismanaged stress can lead to the development of hormonal imbalances, suppressed immune function and susceptibility to infections and diseases. In fact, up to 80% of doctor visits are for "stress related ailments and complaints".
Positive stress motivates and promotes resilience. Beneficial to success, eustress is felt through feelings of enthusiasm and an increased heart rate when working on a task or competing in an event due to the increase in levels of the hormone cortisol.
Key factors of eustress are that it is moderate, short lived and causes brief increases in heart rate or mild changes in stress hormone levels, without any negative impact on your body and mind.
Positive stress is an important and necessary aspect of healthy development and building on your coping resources. It can also give you that extra mental push you need to meet that deadline!
Dealing with situations where positive stress is felt is a part of normal mental development.
Tolerable stress isn't quite as easy to recover from as positive stress. It's brought on by sudden negative change, such as losing a job, divorce, or illness.
In tolerable stress, the body's natural response is more intense due to the severity of the stressor.
The feeling is more extreme in nature than eustress, but can usually be overcome quickly with the intervention of others. It's said that tolerable stress is buffered by supportive relationships that mitigate damaging effects.
How well you manage 'tolerable' stress depends on your resilience and the mental coping mechanisms you have. There are lots of contributing factors as to why someone copes better than another - it all comes down to you as a person.
Toxic stress is the big one to watch out for. It's a response which occurs in children, but if a child experiences toxic stress on a frequent basis without adequate adult support, this can lead to social problems, stress-related diseases and cognitive impairment which develop later in life.
Triggers for toxic stress include emotional or physical abuse, neglect, exposure to violence or hardship.
Breathe - practicing mindfulness helps you focus on the present, rather than the past or the possibilities of the future. It's all about paying more attention to your own feelings and thoughts and taking note of the world around you. Click here to read more on mindfulness from the NHS.
Seek support - building and maintaining positive relationships is one of the most effective ways to adapt to the challenges life throws our way, even though it's easy to underestimate the importance of a good support network. Being able to turn to those you trust in times of need can help build strength and make sense of any negative thoughts you may have concerning your stressor(s).
Self care - it's important to look after your own needs, even though many of us put our families and friends before ourselves. It can help you relax if you are making conscious choices about your own well-being. These changes don't have to be major, though have a profound effect on your mood. Examples include making sure you're getting enough sleep, having 'me time', avoiding harmful substances and eating healthy, nutritious meals.
Learn from experience - many people feel stressed as a natural response, but if you stop and take a few seconds you may find you have dealt with similar situations in the past. Make a note of times you've coped with difficult situations and make an effort to apply these coping strategies when you approach similar circumstances.
Normalise adversity - it's an unfortunate fact of life that some times are bad times. Take tips inspired by mindfulness and nature: when a strong breeze hits, you can become flexible like a tree in the wind, learning to bend and adapt to challenges and find ways to thrive under pressure.