Stress is something we all deal with, but may not always notice. It’s like a shadow that never quite leaves our side. It seeps into our lives, fuelled by various biological and psychological factors that can sometimes mess with our physical body or mind. Let’s look at what we will be covering in our “stressful” topic today!
Why Do We Feel Stressed?
Now, the interesting thing about stress is that what we feel is our body’s reaction to stress. This is explained by the Stress Response Theory.
Depending on whether our stress is short-term or long-term, our body has different reactions. There are different stages to stress which could helps us figure out what kind of coping mechanisms we need to develop.
An example could be the “fight or flight” response to an imminent deadline at work. The body might release adrenaline (short-term reaction) to help you focus and complete the task quickly (fight). If the stress of constant deadlines continues over time, the body might start to show signs of strain like frequent headaches or insomnia (long-term reaction) as it wants to take “flight” from its stressors.
Is stress really all bad?
This is where Dr. Karl Albrecht’s model of stressors comes in handy. He talks about two types of stress.
Eustress, which is the good kind, and distress, which is negative kind. His model also helps us classify stressors into different types, such as acute or chronic and external or internal. Understanding these types helps us get a better idea of how to handle our stress and what is the optimal amount of stress that can improve our performance!
An example of Eustress could be the stress experienced before giving a significant presentation or performance. This stress can be motivating, encouraging the individual to prepare thoroughly and perform to the best of their abilities.
An example of distress, on the other hand, might be chronic work-related stress that could lead to burnout and other health issues.
Types of Stress
Stress can only be categorized into four common contexts that you may encounter daily: Time, Anticipatory, Situational and Encounter.
- Time Stress: This type of stress arises when you are concerned about not having enough time to accomplish a task or meet a deadline. For instance, you might feel time stress when you’re running late for a class/work or maybe even late for our psychoeducational session, trying to finish a project with a strict deadline.
- Anticipatory Stress: Anticipatory stress is what you experience when you’re feeling anxious about something that might happen in the future. This could be a known upcoming event or an anticipated event. For example, you might feel anticipatory stress if you are worried about an upcoming performance review at work or school, or even an anticipatory job interview.
- Situational Stress: Situational stress is a reaction to an unexpected or uncontrollable event. This could be a sudden negative change at work, such as a reorganization, or a personal crisis like a car accident. For instance, getting stuck in a traffic jam when you’re already late for an important appointment or like stuck in Bishan MRT stations cause of train disruption, or having to deliver a presentation when you weren’t prepared for it can cause situational stress.
- Encounter Stress: Encounter stress is stress related to dealing with other people. This can occur when you have conflicts with others, when you’re worried about impressing someone, or when you feel overwhelmed by social obligations. For example, you might feel encounter stress when dealing with a difficult classmate/ coworker or manging a tense family situations like family gatherings.
Stress may start from biological or psychological influences but when left unchecked ti can affect our moods and give rise to anxious thoughts. In our everyday lives, we may face excessive workload or personal struggles that can lead to health problems without proper self-care.
This is why we need to get a grip on stress before it gets a grip on us.
How to manage stress
Try the following techniques to handle physiological symptoms of stress:
- Deep Breathing exercises
- Muscle relaxation
- Guilded Imagery
When the problem of stress is due to the fears and anxieties about a situation, negative thoughts about the situation or outcomes can complicate and enhance the feeling of stress.
The first step is to ask yourself if the negative thoughts are factual. Then try to identify the negative thinking pattern that is driving that feeling. Look at the chart below and ask yourself which negative thought pattern is behind your emotions
Let’s consider a student who is overwhelmed with the amount of schoolwork and upcoming exams.
The way to manage the stress caused by overwhelming schoolwork and exams begins with understanding our stressors. What’s causing our stress? Is it something at work, something personal, or a mix of both? Once we know the root cause, we can start reframing these stressors in a way that they seem less daunting.
The first step would be to identify the stressors which in this case is situational stress that requires time management. Time stress will drive physiological response, increased adrenaline and the fight response to work faster and even concentrate harder. Not a bad thing.
However, if the situation remains unabated or when the mindset and emotions of the situation is a negative one, then the stress situation becomes psychological one. One way to change a negative mindset towards a situation is to reframe the situation.
Reframing could mean viewing school assignements as an opportunities to learn and grow. Instead of saying “I can’t handle this workload,” reframe it as “This is a challenge, I will try to manage my time and see how much I can accomplish.
Coping mechanisms are the things we do that keep our emotions in check so that we can continue to do what we need to do.
Imagine someone dealing with a stressful personal conflict. They might use emotional regulation techniques, like deep breathing exercises or mindfulness, to manage their immediate emotional response. Over the longer term, they may utilize journaling to understand more about their feelings or engage in a hobby like exercising or painting, which helps them relax and process their emotions at their own pace.
Self-care is putting aside time to look after your mind and body so that it does not become overloaded with demands.
Putting aside time every day or some days of the week to engage in activity that helps you to relax and unwind, such as a yoga class or a quick jog in your nearby park, having balanced meals, getting at least 6-8 hours of sleep a night, are some of the best self-care practices.
The important thing to remember is that stress, though inevitable, is manageable. With the right strategies, of coping strategies and self-care, we can navigate through daily challenges of stressors and promote overall health and wellbeing.