Stress. We all get it, we all show different symptoms of it, and we all have different ways of managing it. While there are many problems associated with stress, one of the biggest issues is that it’s not always visible in the same form. For some, it shows itself in eating habits. Others might get aches and pains. How can we diagnose stress and what are some of the ways to treat it?
First, we need to answer the question, “what is stress?”
Essentially stress is your body’s normal response to events that make you feel threatened or imbalanced in the wrong way. It’s that thought process in terms of perceived demand and resources – what your body thinks its demands are and what resources it thinks it has to manage them. In its simplest terms, stress is about our personal sense of control over a situation.
How do we recognize the signs of stress?
“One of the biggest problems when it comes to managing stress is that we tend to override the problem by simply avoiding it,” says Dr. Karen McNeil, Registered Psychologist. “Often we create stress scenarios in our mind, but there really is no evidence to suggest that these threats are valid”
While some people have a very high sense of self-awareness and are able to detect stress easily, for most it’s not the case. When it comes to detecting stress, there are four common types that are typically diagnosed:
1. Physical Stress:
This is the most obvious form of stress. It might present itself in the form of headaches or other aches & pains, or you might notice an increase in your heart rate. Other common signs include getting sick more often than normal or noticing tension throughout your entire body.
2. Mental Stress:
This form of stress is also quite common, and fairly easy to recognize. Mental Stress presents itself in the form of memory problems, an inability to concentrate, or anxiety.
3. Behavioural Stress:
This can be more difficult to self-diagnose. Behavioural stress is change in your typical habits, such as food intake (eating more/less), sleep patterns, isolating yourself from others or avoiding your typical responsibilities.
4. Emotional Stress:
This is another tough one to diagnose, as this is our body’s natural response to being overwhelmed. When the body is experiencing stress emotionally, it tends to prepare in the form of a “fight or flight” response. Signs of emotional stress might include an increase in agitation or moodiness.
So if I am suffering from excess stress, is my body at a health risk?
“Once our bodies adapt to consistently being in stress-response mode, the body will start to react automatically that way to any situation,” Dr. McNeil explains. “The long term exposure to these reactions can lead to health problems such as heart disease, immune disorders, speeding up the aging process, and more. This is why it’s so important to use active awareness to monitor stress signals and to be able to implement some strategy to manage it.”
What are some strategies for managing stress?
There are two components to managing stress – awareness and control. First, Dr. McNeil suggests using a tactic known as “active awareness”. This involves using the tools around you to provide some insight into whether or not you might be stressed. This could involve looking at how you’re interacting with people or using online self-reflection tools to be able to monitor changes on a daily basis.
When it comes to controlling your stress, ask yourself where the source of your stress is. If it’s mental, you might need to start practicing mindfulness to get back to those good thoughts. If it’s physical, perhaps you need to look at some calming strategies for the body. Finally, Dr McNeil suggests looking outward to get support from family, friends or professionals.
“At the end of the day, the best approach is to recognize that you might be experiencing stress,” she says. “By recognizing the problem, you can start to take those first steps towards leading a more holistic, healthy, stress-free lifestyle.”