Pressure turns into stress when you feel unable to cope. People have different ways of reacting to stress, so a situation that feels stressful to one person may be motivating to someone else.
Stress can affect how you feel, think, behave and how your body works. In fact, common signs of stress include sleeping problems, sweating, loss of appetite and difficulty concentrating.
You may feel anxious, irritable or low in self esteem, and you may have racing thoughts, worry constantly or go over things in your head. You may notice that you lose your temper more easily, drink more or act unreasonably.
You may also experience headaches, muscle tension or pain, or dizziness.
Stress causes a surge of hormones in your body. These stress hormones are released to enable you to deal with pressures or threats – the so-called "fight or flight" response.
Once the pressure or threat has passed, your stress hormone levels will usually return to normal. However, if you're constantly under stress, these hormones will remain in your body, leading to the symptoms of stress.
Managing stress in daily life
Stress is not an illness itself, but it can cause serious illness if it isn't addressed. It's important to recognise the symptoms of stress early. Recognising the signs and symptoms of stress will help you figure out ways of coping and save you from adopting unhealthy coping methods, such as drinking or smoking.
Spotting the early signs of stress will also help prevent it getting worse and potentially causing serious complications, such as high blood pressure.
There is little you can do to prevent stress, but there are many things you can do to manage stress more effectively, such as learning how to relax, taking regular exercise and adopting good time-management techniques.
If you're not sure what's causing your stress, keep a diary and make a note of stressful episodes for two-to-four weeks. Then review it to spot the triggers.
Things you might want to write down include:
the date, time and place of a stressful episode
what you were doing
who you were with
how you felt emotionally
what you were thinking
what you started doing
how you felt physically
a stress rating (0-10 where 10 is the most stressed you could ever feel)
You can use the diary to:
work out what triggers your stress
work out how you operate under pressure
develop better coping mechanisms
Doctors sometimes recommend keeping a stress diary to help them diagnose stress.
Take action to tackle stress
There's no quick-fix cure for stress, and no single method will work for everyone. However, there are simple things you can do to change the common life problems that can cause stress or make stress a problem. These include relaxation techniques, exercise and talking the issues through.
Find out more by checking out the Ten stress busters.
Get stress support
Because talking through the issues is one of the key ways to tackle stress, you may find it useful to attend a stress management groups or class. These are sometimes run in doctors’ surgeries or community centres. The classes help people identify the cause of their stress and develop effective coping techniques.
Ask your GP for more information if you're interested in attending a stress support group. You can also use the search directory to find emotional support services in your area.
In general, stress is related to both external and internal factors. External factors include the physical environment, including your job, your relationships with others, your home, and all the situations, challenges, difficulties, and expectations you're confronted with on a daily basis. Internal factors determine your body's ability to respond to, and deal with, the external stress-inducing factors. Internal factors which influence your ability to handle stress include your nutritional status, overall health and fitness levels, emotional well-being, and the amount of sleep and rest you get.
Stress has driven evolutionary change (the development and natural selection of species over time). Thus, the species that adapted best to the causes of stress (stressors) have survived and evolved into the plant and animal kingdoms we now observe.
Some generalizations, however, can be made. People with adequate social support networks report less stress and overall improved mental health in comparison to those without adequate social support. People who are poorly nourished, who get inadequate sleep, or who are physically unwell also have a reduced capacity to handle pressures and stresses of everyday life and may report higher stress levels. Some stressors are particularly associated with certain age groups or life stages. Children, teens, working parents, and seniors are examples of the groups who often face common stressors related to life transitions.
Fortunately, effective stress-management strategies can diminish the ill effects of stress. The presence of intact and strong social support networks among friends, family, and religious or other group affiliations can help reduce the subjective experience of stress during the teen years. Recognition of the problem and helping teens to develop stress-management skills can also be valuable preventive measures. In severe cases, a physician or other health-care provider can recommend treatments or counseling that can reduce the long-term risks of teen stress.
Stress management can be a powerful tool for wellness. There's evidence that too much pressure is not just a mood killer. People who are under constant stress are more vulnerable to everything from colds to high blood pressure and heart disease. Although there are many ways to cope, one strategy is to eat stress-fighting foods. Read on to learn how a stress management diet can help.
Foods can fight stress in several ways. Comfort foods, like a bowl of warm oatmeal, actually boost levels of serotonin, a calming brain chemical. Other foods can reduce levels of cortisol and adrenaline, stress hormones that take a toll on the body over time. Finally, a nutritious diet can counteract the impact of stress, by shoring up the immune system and lowering blood pressure. Do you know which foods are stress busters?
All carbs prompt the brain to make more serotonin. For a steady supply of this feel-good chemical, it's best to eat complex carbs, which are digested more slowly. Good choices include whole-grain breakfast cereals, breads, and pastas, as well as old-fashioned oatmeal. Complex carbs can also help you feel balanced by stabilizing blood sugar levels.
Dietitians usually recommend steering clear of simple carbs, which include sweets and soda. But these foods can provide a fast fix for a mood swing and short-term relief of stress-induced irritability. Simple sugars are digested quickly, leading to a spike in serotonin. But remember to limit your intake of simple sugars and sweets.
Oranges make the list for their wealth of vitamin C. Studies suggest this vitamin can reduce levels of stress hormones while strengthening the immune system. In one study done in people with high blood pressure, blood pressure and cortisol levels (a stress hormone) returned to normal more quickly when people took vitamin C before a stressful task.
Popeye never lets stress get the best of him -- maybe it's all the magnesium in his spinach. Too little magnesium may trigger headaches and fatigue, compounding the effects of stress. One cup of spinach goes a long way toward replenishing magnesium stores. Not a spinach eater? Try some cooked soybeans or a filet of salmon, also high in magnesium. Green leafy vegetables are a rich source of magnesium.
To keep stress in check, make friends with fatty fish. Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish like salmon and tuna, can prevent surges in stress hormones and protect against heart disease, mood disorders like depression, and premenstrual syndrome. For a steady supply of feel-good omega-3s, aim to eat 3 ounces of fatty fish at least twice a week.
Research suggests black tea can help you recover from stressful events more quickly. One study compared people who drank 4 cups of tea daily for six weeks with people who drank a tea-like placebo. The real tea drinkers reported feeling calmer and had lower levels of cortisol after stressful situations. When it comes to stress, the caffeine in coffee can boost stress hormones and increase blood pressure.
Pistachios, as well as other nuts and seeds, are a great source of omega-3 fatty acids. Eating a handful of pistachios, walnuts, or almonds every day may help lower your cholesterol, reduce inflammation in the arteries of the heart, lower the risk of diabetes, and protect you against stress.
One of the best ways to reduce high blood pressure is to get enough potassium -- and half an avocado has more potassium than a medium-sized banana. In addition, guacamole offers a nutritious alternative when stress has you craving a high-fat treat.
Almonds are chock full of helpful vitamins. There's vitamin E to bolster the immune system, plus a range of B vitamins, which may make the body more resilient during bouts of stress such as depression. To get the benefits, snack on a quarter of a cup every day.
Crunchy raw vegetables can help fight stress in a purely mechanical way. Munching celery or carrot sticks helps release a clenched jaw, and that can ward off tension.
Carbs at bedtime can speed the release of serotonin and help you sleep better. Heavy meals before bed can trigger heartburn, so stick to something light like toast and jam.
Another bedtime stress buster is the time-honored glass of warm milk as a remedy for insomnia and restlessness. Researchers have found that calcium eases anxiety and mood swings linked to PMS. Dietitians typically recommend skim or low-fat milk.
There are many herbal supplements that claim to fight stress. One of the best studied is St. John's wort, which has shown benefits for people with mild-to-moderate depression. Although more research is needed, the herb also appears to reduce symptoms of anxiety and PMS. There is less data on valerian root, another herb said to have a calming effect.