Causes and signs of stress

Stress is something that is completely normal. Everyone experiences stress from time to time and sometimes it can be positive, encouraging us to strive to do our best. However, stress can become a problem if you are feeling stressed very frequently or so severely, that it impacts on how you would usually live your life. There is no need to feel embarrassed about stress.

Short-term stress is our body’s response to a feeling of threat or danger. Evolutionarily, our bodies would flood with adrenaline if we were attacked (known as the ‘fight or flight’ mechanism), so we could deal with the situation. Nowadays, the feeling of threat can come from many sources, and we rarely need to fight or flee, so all the adrenaline stays in our system – we don’t burn it away by action.

This can lead to a faster heartbeat, sweating, muscle tensing, our bodies shutting down areas currently unneeded (eg digestive system – hence we get feelings of nausea), racing thoughts. We can often deal with stress if it’s only for a short time (eg when giving a presentation), but this response can build and go on for longer-term situations. Our initial adrenaline has gone, but we still feel on-edge, overwhelmed and tired.

Causes of stress

Different people find different things stressful, and there’s a huge range of things can cause stress. Some people seem to thrive in stressful situations while others find it difficult to cope and function normally. Frequently, we learn to avoid situations that cause us stress, but this only leads to further stress when we can no longer avoid it (eg not checking our emails because we don’t want to deal with something, but not checking them for a long time means we would now have to deal with lots of things). Causes of stress can include:

  • close relationships, friendships, and relationships with colleagues, bosses, supervisors etc
  • study demands
  • work-related issues
  • coping with illness
  • life changes, such as moving house, marriage, retirement, divorce
  • day-to-day activities and task
  • positive events, such as organising parties
  • juggling many roles or commitments at the same time

Signs of stress

Even if you are suffering from mild stress you might experience any (or a combination of) the following symptoms:

  • worrying
  • feelings of anxiety
  • irritability or moodiness
  • feelings of wanting to be left alone
  • feelings that you have to pretend to others that you are ok
  • feelings that you can’t cope
  • difficulty getting to sleep, or waking up frequently while you are sleeping
  • headaches
  • back and/or neck pain
  • upset stomach
  • increased blood pressure
  • changes in appetite
  • rashes or skin breakouts (spots etc)
  • chest pains
  • worsening of any current physical problems
  • susceptibility to colds/viruses

Any of these symptoms reduce quality of life and people suffering from stress often realise that their work and/or relationships suffer as a result. Stress puts a lot of strain on the body and can cause serious health problems. If you are stressed, it is better to identify it and do something about stress rather than ignore it.

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