April 6, 2021

Stress: Science, Signs and Survival

What exactly is stress? What are the signs, the science and a small survival guide for stress. An article by Anju Asokan.

By: Anju Asokan

Stress is a word that we use in our life almost everyday. We hear others talk about how ‘stressful’ their work is or about exam ‘stress’. Some use it to express the pressure of having to get a lot of things done, while some use it to express how they feel when they are under pressure. So, what exactly is stress?

Any type of change that causes physical, emotional, or psychological strain can be defined as stress. It can be long term or short term. Our body undergoes several chemical changes when we are under pressure. These chemical changes can raise blood pressure, heart rate and sugar levels. Stress can also affect our behaviour by making us moody, frustrated, angry or depressed.

Signs of stress

Some of the common signs of stress are increased heartbeat, low energy, headaches, digestive problems and changes in mood. But if stress is taking its toll on your well-being and daily life you will experience; decreased attention span, anxiety, inability to recollect, moodiness, anger, frustration, sudden change in weight and menstrual cycle, high blood pressure, increased reliance on alcohol and other mind-altering substances for coping.

Science of stress

When our body is stressed, it triggers a ‘fight or flight’ response as though it senses danger or threat. During this response, several hormones like adrenaline and cortisol are released. These hormones can change our rate of heartbeat, affect digestion and several other bodily functions. Once the stress is gone or when the perception of threat is gone, our body returns to normal functioning via relaxation response. In case of chronic stress, our body does not return to its normal functioning. This would mean persistent increased heartbeats or indigestion leading to deterioration of both physical and mental health.

How to survive stress?

Though inevitable, stress is something that can be managed. Firstly, it is important to have an understanding of how stress affects you. For some, it could lead to complete burnout while for others it may be indigestion. Most often these signs go unnoticed or may be taken for something else. Recognising the signs would help you to realise that you are under stress and it will motivate you to find means to cope with it.

One way to deal with stress is to exercise regularly. Studies have proven how exercising regularly can help in both physical and mental wellbeing.

Another way is to find some “me-time”. No matter how busy you are, set some time aside for yourself. You can use this time to do simple activities that give you happiness, say, playing with your pet, sipping a good cup of coffee while contemplating about your day and more. Meditation and practising mindfulness also help in reducing stress as they help you to feel grounded and become more present.

Communication is another means through which stress can be reduced. It will help you to vent and to find some relief. It can also help in changing the way you perceive a situation.

“I promise you nothing is as chaotic as it seems. Nothing is worth diminishing your health. Nothing is worth poisoning yourself into stress, anxiety, and fear.”

― Steve Maraboli, Unapologetically You: Reflections on Life and the Human Experience!