Many people are aware of the common stressors in life, but not many are aware of the day-to-day stressors and the types of stress that are major contributors to potential decline in health. The good news is— once identified, we can certainly do something about managing our stress.
What is stress?
Stress is both an emotional and a physical experience. For some, symptoms may look like increased sweating, difficulty breathing, low energy, loss of sexual desire, upset stomach, insomnia, and other physical ailments and discomforts. Stress is a natural human reaction that we all experience. When a situation or life event is the cause, it is our body’s way of telling us that something is not okay, and we need to find a way to cope.
Stressors look very differently and vary person to person. What is triggering to one may not be to another person. However, some stressors are common and widely understood. This might include big life changes such as experiencing divorce, losing a job, birth of a child, illness, moving, or experiencing the death of a loved one. It’s useful to recognize that there are other stressors that may be affecting our health and are experienced much more frequently.
What is Acute Stress?
Acute stress is stress that comes and goes. It’s the sudden and unexpected call from your child’s school, or a work deadline ahead. This kind of stress appears for a short time before it eases. It develops quickly but does not last long.
What is Episodic Acute Stress?
Episodic acute stress is described as mini crises on a regular basis. It’s a constant state of tension. This might look like taking on too much, a very stressful work environment, and feeling overburdened in life. These are events that happen in our lives that add up over time and can lead people to turn to unhealthy coping behaviors and patterns. Binge drinking, overeating, or staying in a bad relationship are common behaviors seen in people who are in a state of episodic acute stress.
What is Chronic Stress?
Chronic stress derives from serious life problems, often beyond our control such as war, poverty, racism, chronic illness, or having experienced a traumatic childhood. This type of stress is the result of long-term exposure to stressors. The demands of these situations feel unrelenting and never-ending.
Types of Stressors
When examining the types of stress that people may experience, it’s also important to understand the types of stressors, to know where it could be coming from.
Physical stressors can be described as those things that put a physical strain in our bodies. This can be illness, injury, surgery, constant noise pollution, etc. Social stressors stem from challenging relationships with loved ones, co-workers, neighbors, and other meaningful relationships. Psychological stressors are people, events, circumstances, or situations that we interpret as negative or threatening. This can be tied to deeply held beliefs or views about ourselves and others.
How Stress Affects our Health
Stressors can come from various sources in our lives. They can also cause problems in our health. Learning how stressors affect our body can help us make a plan to manage it and in turn support healthy behavior habits and tactics.
Stress can contribute to increased blood pressure, trouble with digestion, weakened immune system, anxiety, and mood disorders, and more. It can also make unhealthy behaviors worsen. People who are experiencing this type of pressure may eat poorly, exercise less, neglect or damage relationships, and engage in other unhealthy behaviors.
Tips for managing
When thinking about stress management, it’s important to first notice how our body communicates to us that we are experiencing it. Ask yourself, what are the physical symptoms I typically notice when feeling stress? Once those are identified, think about when you feel these symptoms arise. This will help you figure out your stressors and what might be contributing to the symptoms. Lastly, come up with a relevant management plan. This can be practicing stress management tactics in the moment, or a daily regular practice to keep overall stress levels down. For many, it’s a combination of both.
Stress is constant, but managing it effectively will make you feel happier and healthier. Once we take the time to reflect more on the underlying source and the type of stress we are experiencing, then we can understand and better equip ourselves to come up with strategies to help us feel well and support our health. Consider making a list of the healthy responses you’d like to tap into when those feelings arise. Refer to that list as needed.
Managing stress can help improve your quality of life, help us relax, support our overall health, engage in healthy habits, increase focus, increase sleep, and other health benefits. Talk to your health coach if this is an area you’d like to focus on and would like support with.
Alcohol, Sleep and Stress is a podcast featuring Peter Attia and Matthew Walker, Ph.D.
This post (with video) illustrates how stress can show up as physical pain.
Huberman Lab Podcast explores tools on managing stress and anxiety.