We all experience stress in our lives. Because the vast majority of health problems are caused or influenced by stress, it’s important to understand how stress affects your body and learn effective stress management techniques to make stress work for you rather than against you.
What Is Stress?
Stress is your body’s response to changes in your life. Because life involves constant change—ranging from everyday, routine changes like commuting from home to work to adapting to major life changes like marriage, divorce, or death of a loved one—there is no avoiding stress.1
Your goal shouldn’t be to eliminate all stress but to eliminate unnecessary stress and effectively manage the rest. There are some common causes of stress that many people experience, but each person is different.
Stress can come from many sources, which are known as “stressors.” Because our experience of what is considered “stressful” is created by our unique perceptions of what we encounter in life (based on our own mix of personality traits, available resources, and habitual thought patterns), a situation may be perceived as “stressful” by one person and merely “challenging” by someone else.
Simply put, one person’s stress trigger may not register as stressful to someone else. That said, certain situations tend to cause more stress in most people and can increase the risk of burnout.
For example, when we find ourselves in situations where there are high demands on us but we little control and few choices, we are likely to experience stress. We might also feel stress when we don’t feel equipped; where we may be harshly judged by others; and where consequences for failure are steep or unpredictable.
Many people are stressed by their jobs, relationships, financial issues, and health problems, as well as more mundane things like clutter or busy schedules. Learning skills to cope with these stressors can help reduce your experience of stress.1What Are the Best Ways to Gain Control Over Stress?
Just as stress is perceived differently by each of us, stress affects us all in ways that are unique to us. One person may experience headaches, while another may find stomach upset is a common reaction, and a third may experience any of a number of other symptoms.
While we all react to stress in our own ways, there is a long list of commonly experienced effects of stress that range from mild to life-threatening. Stress can affect immunity, which can impact virtually all areas of health. Stress can affect mood in many ways as well. Creating a stress management plan is often one part of a plan for overall wellness.
If you find yourself experiencing physical symptoms you think may be related to stress, talk to your doctor to be sure you are doing what you can to safeguard your health. Symptoms that may be exacerbated by stress are not “all in your head” and need to be taken seriously.
Stress can be effectively managed in many different ways. The best stress management plans usually include a mix of stress relievers that address stress physically and psychologically and help to develop resilience and coping skills.