How Stress Impacts Our Lives
What is stress?
Stress is any pressure, demand, or threat placed upon us that requires us to reestablish balance. We might be stressed trying to balance numerous responsibilities and roles. We might be dealing with a major life change that is taking a toll on us mentally and physically. We might be dealing with three life changes simultaneously, or just be under extreme pressure.
Feeling stressed results from our perception that the circumstance is more than we can handle; that the demands outweigh the resources we have to cope with them.
What are stressors?
Almost anything can be a stressor: relationships; finances; work; school; lifestyle changes; social changes; personal expectations and demands; illness and death. Stressors can be acute or short-term, ranging from stubbing your toe to having a broken arm, from finding last-minute childcare to losing your job. A stressor can be more constant in your life, such as a chronic illness or an ongoing custody battle. Often we are not dealing with one stressor, but rather competing demands and pressures, or numerous problems all at once. A typical perfect storm of stress might entail:
car making noises
part-time employment with no benefits
child in trouble at school
oh and bills, bills, and more bills
Signs of stress
If you are under serious strain, it is likely that you and/or others have noticed physical, mental, and behavioural signs of stress in yourself.
Physically, you might feel exhausted and worn down, be experiencing headaches and stomach troubles, be taking longer to get over a cold, and having trouble sleeping. Mentally and emotionally, you might find it hard to think about anything other than what is stressing you out. You might feel restless and be trying to do too much, or unmotivated to do things you normally do.
You may be fine one hour, and then overwhelmed and sad the next. You might be more irritable than normal, and behaviourally this might entail you lashing out at others. You might also be eating terribly or not really hungry and losing weight, and you might be drinking a lot more than normal after work and withdrawing from your friends or family. Long-term chronic stress can also cause or exasperate health issues such as mental illness, cardiovascular disease, gastrointestinal problems, diabetes, obesity, and sexual dysfunction.
These symptoms can be disruptive and debilitating, which of course only exasperates how stressed we are. How The Stress Response Hijacks Everything looks at the role of the nervous system in our response to stress and Different Ways to Deal With Stress explores ways we can manage our stress.