Stress refers to a situation where the challenges and demands on you exceed your existing resources. In addition to external demands, the expectations and requirements you have set for yourself may also cause stress. Both pleasant and unpleasant things may cause stress depending on your interpretation of the situation and your individual response to pressure. Something that causes stress in some people may actually be a strength for others.
Stress is common during times of change when a person’s resources and ability to adapt are put to the test. Work and study-related stress may be caused by busy schedules, unreasonable workload, problems with time management, lack of support, a poor work or study atmosphere, uncertainty about one’s own abilities and skills, and lack of control over work. In private life, stress is often caused by changes in personal relationships, financial problems, illness and a stressful lifestyle. But positive life events such a new job, new studies or a new relationship can often cause stress too.
Everyone faces stressful situations in life, and short-term stress is not harmful. In the short-term stress can even be a positive force that makes you more alert and helps you achieve good results. When you know yourself and your stress management skills, you can respond to stressful situations calmly. You know that the stress is temporary and stems from a particular situation, and you know what to do if it becomes excessive. However, inadequate stress management skills and long-term pressure may cause harmful stress symptoms that impair your psychological and physical well-being.
Typical emotional stress symptoms include frustration, irritability, memory problems, restlessness, worry, fatigue, anxiety, sleep disturbances, and difficulties making decisions. Changes in appetite and lack of sexual desire may also be caused by stress. Stress may cause harmful behavioural changes that worsen the stress condition such as increased consumption of alcohol, other intoxicants or cigarettes, cutting down the amount of exercise and spending less time with hobbies.
Although stress is a psychological experience, many of its effects are physical. Stress activates the sympathetic nervous system by preparing the body to adapt to a threatening situation (fight-or-flight response). The body of a stressed person is constantly in a state of emergency, and this may cause many physical symptoms if it persists. Typical stress symptoms include tension in the neck and shoulders, headache, dizziness, increased blood pressure, heart palpitations, nausea, stomach complaints, recurring colds, and back complaints.
People can be roughly divided into three groups according to their reaction to stress. Some people react to stress mainly psychologically with symptoms such as sleep disturbances, fatigue and poorer lifestyle. These people usually recognise the stress easily and understand that the symptoms are due to pressure. Others, however, react to stress with physical symptoms such as musculoskeletal pain. As it may be difficult to connect the symptoms to stress, treatment may focus solely on the physical symptoms and not their actual cause. The third group comprises people who don’t feel they have any particular reaction to stress. Their performance may suffer, but this doesn’t cause them any psychological or physical health issues.
Taking control of stress
Busy schedules and stress are not things you should learn to tolerate, and you should react to them as early as possible. You can manage stress in many different ways, and everyone should try to find suitable ways to cope with stressful situations.
If stress and pressure increase in your life, pay attention to the following:
- Know your limits and resources. What causes you stress? How do the stress symptoms manifest in you? What makes you relax?
- Take care of your personal relationships and let your friends and family members support you.
- Avoid worrying. Don’t dwell on the situation but try to find concrete solutions. Try to identify the things that you can do something about and accept the ones you can’t.
- Exercise within the limits of your resources by listening to yourself. Remember to balance exercise with rest and relaxation.
- Don’t forget healthy and regular meals.
- Take plenty of rest.
- Don’t deal with stress by using intoxicants. Long-term use of intoxicants may worsen the stress and reduce the quality of sleep that is vital for stress management.
- Assess the requirements you’ve set for yourself and think about whether you could be more kind to yourself.
- Try to ease the pressure arising from work or studying: plan your schedule better, prioritise tasks, see if you can skip something, and ask for help if necessary.
- Believe in your own ability to manage stress and influence your life.