November 6th was International Stress Awareness Day, and to mark the day, here at Little Victories, we want to educate you about Stress and how to deal with it, recognise it and reduce it. Here are 5 truths about stress:

1) Not all stress is bad

It may surprise you to learn that not all stress is bad for you, and the hormones that the body produces in response to stress aren’t aren’t bad for you either. In fact, stress levels actually fluctuate throughout the day as you adapt to challenges such as waking up (turns out you hate getting up for a reason), getting stuck in traffic, or being surprised for your birthday. 

Stress is simply the body’s response to changes that create taxing demands. There is a difference between eustress, which is a term for positive stress, and distress, which refers to negative stress. In daily life, we often use the term “stress” to describe negative situations. This leads many people to believe that all stress is bad for you, which is not true.

Eustress, or positive stress, has the following characteristics:

  • Motivates, focuses energy
  • Is short-term
  • Is perceived as within our coping abilities
  • Feels exciting
  • Improves performance

In contrast, Distress, or negative stress, has the following characteristics:

  • Causes anxiety or concern
  • Can be short- or long-term
  • Is perceived as outside of our coping abilities
  • Feels unpleasant
  • Decreases performance
  • Can lead to mental and physical problems

2) Stress can cause a broken heart

When you’re stressed, your heart rate rises and so does your blood pressure. Most people can handle these kinds of physiological changes. A chemical called Cortisol is released when you feel stressed, but once the stressful event is over, the level of this chemical should go down again.

But even short-term stress can have a profound impact on your heart if it’s bad enough. The condition cardiomyopathy, also known as broken-heart syndrome, is a weakening of the heart’s left ventricle (its main pumping chamber) that usually results from severe emotional or physical stress.

Although the condition is in general rare, 90 percent of cases are in women. Cardiomyopathy can occur in very stressful situations, such as after a huge fight, the death of a child, or other major triggers, patients can suffer severe chest pain and other symptoms of what we call acute heart failure syndrome, though their coronary arteries are clear. They can be very sick, but with treatment, most of the time, people recover.

3) There’s a reason we hate mondays

Maybe it’s no accident that most heart attacks occur on a Monday — its the most stressful day of the week for most working people.

While it’s tough to link stress directly to a specific disease, we know that stress does contribute to serious illness. Since stress makes you more likely to smoke, drink excessively, and eat in ways that cause obesity, it’s fair to say that there is a link between stress and illness. However, longer term stress is more likely to make you sick than short term.

Left unchecked, severe stress — the kind that continues for months or years — is more apt to lead to serious illness than short-term stressors do. The stress hormones cortisol, adrenaline, and epinephrine affect most areas of the body, interfering with sleep and increasing the risk of stroke, high blood pressure, and heart disease, as well as causing depression and anxiety. Here are some other ways stress effects the body:

  • Stress causes inflammation.
  • Stress affects your digestive tract. 
  • Stress messes with your immune system.
  • Stress can effect your focus.
  • Stress can make you mentally ill. 
  • Stress can make you feel pain.
  • Stress can make you sleep less

4) Stress and Anxiety are not the same thing.

It can be difficult to differentiate between stress and anxiety. Looking at some of the physical effects of stress, they share some of the symptoms of anxiety. Both can lead to sleepless nights, exhaustion, excessive worry, lack of focus, and irritability. Even physical symptoms – like rapid heart rate, muscle tension, and headaches – can impact both people experiencing stress and those diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. With such similar symptoms, it can be difficult to know when to seek professional help.

In short, stress is your body’s reaction to a trigger and is generally a short-term experience. Stress can be positive or negative. When stress kicks in and helps you pull off that deadline you thought was a lost cause, it’s positive. When stress results in insomnia, poor concentration, and impaired ability to do the things you normally do, it’s negative. Stress is a response to a threat in any given situation.

Anxiety, on the other hand, is a sustained mental health disorder that can be triggered by stress. Anxiety doesn’t fade into the distance once the threat is mediated. Anxiety hangs around for the long haul, and can cause significant impairment in social, occupational, and other important areas of functioning.

To minimize or misdiagnose one or the other can be dangerous, unhealthy and can lead to further illness. It is important to not only know the difference, but recognise it.

5) There are methods for reducing stress, or for assistance in coping with stress.

  • Relaxation breathing: The best thing you can do when under stress is to practice deep breathing. Practice this strategy when you’re calm so that you know how to use it when you’re under pressure. Inhale for a count of four, hold for four, and exhale for four. Repeat.
  • Practice mindfulness: Sure, there are apps you can use, but the best way to practice mindfulness is to disconnect from your digital world and reconnect with your natural world for a specific period of time each day. Take a walk outside, meditate or simply take a break somewhere calming and use the opportunity to notice your surroundings using all of your senses.
  • Get moving: Regular exercise releases endorphins in your brain, making you feel better and physically releasing stress. Making exercise a daily habit can create a more positive reaction to stressful events.
  • Keep a journal: Writing down your best and worst bits of the day helps you sort through the obstacles and focus on what went right. It’s normal to experience ups and downs on any given day. Use a few minutes before bed to write down your #LittleVictories , your achievements, your goals for tomorrow as well as what made you stressed.
  • Get creative: There’s a reason adult coloring books are so popular – they really work. Whether you’re drawing, coloring, writing poetry, or throwing paint on a wall, engaging in a creative hobby gives your mind a chance to relax.
  • Crank up the tunes: Listening to slow, relaxing music decreases your stress response (just as fast-paced music pumps you up for a run.)

HOWEVER, If you have difficulty managing stress and it impedes your ability to carry out your normal daily activities (like getting to work on time or even going to work at all) it is vital to speak to a medical professional, as well as those responsible for your well-being in your workplace. It’s important to learn to identify your triggers and responses and find strategies that work for you.

We hope you found this article educational and helpful. If you have any tips for reducing stress, please leave them in the comments below. We’d love to hear what works best for you.

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