The dictionary definition of stress is mental, emotional or physical strain or tension caused by things such as anxiety or overwork.

Mostly we think of stress as a bad thing, but we need some stress to stimulate us into action. Stress is a normal and natural part of life. We are designed to have stress as a reflex, it is stress overload that is the problem.

Four main areas of stress

  1. Eustress– positive stress that motivates you into action and to meet challenges
  2. Under-stress-associated with boredom and lack of direction
  3. Overstress – going beyond your limits
  4. Distress– your unresolved emotions and feelings

Other causes of stress, called ‘stressors’ can be created by:

  • Your Body – diet, exercise, illness, puberty, menopause, injuries
  • Your Mind – thoughts, values, beliefs, expectations, memories
  • Your Environment – pollution, weather, noise, traffic, chemicals
  • Your Relationships – spouse, partner, family, friends, business
  • Your Job – colleagues, deadlines, boss, long hours, job security
  • Major or Critical Incidents – death, divorce, accidents, emergencies

Four Common Types of Stress

  1. Time Stress

Time stress is one of the most common types of stress that we experience today. It is essential to learn how to manage this type of stress working in the corporate world, small business or the home environment of managing a busy family.

  1. Anticipatory Stress

Anticipatory stress describes stress that you experience concerning the future. It can be focused on a specific event, at work, at home, a sporting event or a social encounter. However, anticipatory stress can also be vague and undefined, such as an overall sense of dread about the future, or a worry that “something will go wrong.”

  1. Situational Stress

Situational stress can occur in any of our everyday life situations. Meeting new work colleagues, starting a new job, can be a scary situation that you have no control over. More commonly, however, it’s a situation that involves conflict, or a loss of status or acceptance in the eyes of your group. Losing your job or making a major mistake in front of work colleagues are examples of events that can cause situational stress.

  1. Encounter Stress

Encounter stress revolves around people. You experience encounter stress when you worry about interacting with a certain person or group of people – you may not like them, or you might think that they’re unpredictable. Encounter stress can also occur if your role involves a lot of personal interactions with customers or clients, especially if those groups are in distress. This type of stress also occurs when you feel overwhelmed or drained from interacting with too many people.

Stress – Internal and External Forces

Internal Forces:

Major life changes like changing work, work being too challenging or not suitable, moving home, divorce, death in the family, coping with a difficult child, your partner with a chronic disease or cancer, a sick and frail parent, living awfully by your standards, being poor, having too much to do – busyness, family financial pressures, going bankrupt, facing discrimination, being bullied, and the list goes on.

2. External Forces:

Chronically bad health is usually a combination of one or more of the four factors that create good health, physical, mental, emotional and spiritual wellbeing, getting out of balance. Emotional stresses can be caused by situations from the past that we still hold inside, like resentment, anger, grief, shame and guilt – we urge you to get help if you need to, to release these so your health can benefit. Sometimes we have to live with situations that ‘don’t feel right’ for us and don’t support us. This can be because we value different things than the other people involved. For example, if one person drinks alcohol a lot and the rest of the family would rather they didn’t. This is major stress. Our minds can create stress for us as well. Aren’t we funny humans; we can easily slip into habits like expecting the worst, being a perfectionist, expecting too much and then being disappointed, not being confident, and not speaking up for ourselves.

Facts About Stress

Stress prevention and relief is hugely a result of calming the mind and training the mind to stay calm. All the situations that stress us are called ‘stressors’. Usually we think of stressors as being only bad for us, or negative, like a tough job or demanding relationship or a difficult to manage child. Really, any time we have high demands on our attention can be stressful, like buying a house or getting more responsibility at work or speaking in public.

  • Short term stress is usually fine for the body. We recover. It’s the long term or chronic stress that causes the body chemistry to change and tissue damage can occur
  • What you find stressful, someone else may not. We are all unique, with different backgrounds, beliefs and abilities. Some people love technology, some people are seriously challenged by it and it affects their stress levels. It’s no use judging yourself, stressing yourself because you can’t do something. Some people dread the morning travel to work and others love the time to listen to music or inspiring speakers

Stress Damages Your Body

The body is controlled by the autonomic nervous system (ANS or involuntary nervous system) that acts as a control system mechanism largely below the level of consciousness and controls the function of the bodies’ organs. The ANS affects your heart rate, digestion, breathing, perspiration, salivation, your pupils, urination and sexual arousal. The ANS is divided into two systems:

  • the sympathetic nervous system (SNS)is a ‘quick response mobilising system’ which speeds up the bodies physiology
  • the parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS) is a ‘calming or dampening system’ which slows the body down

These systems operate independently in some functions and interact co-operatively in others. When the alarm situation finishes, the body returns to its’ normal quieter functioning state. The heart rate slows, the blood comes back to the centre of the body so the organs can digest, use the food, and clean the body up inside.

The Stress Cycle

Stage 1: Alarm

  • When encountering a stressor, your body reacts with “fight-or-flight” response and the sympathetic nervous system is activated so you move away
  • Hormones such as cortisol and adrenalin are released into the bloodstream to meet the threat or danger
  • The bodies’ resources are now mobilized so you can run from that crocodile

Stage 2: Resistance

  • The parasympathetic nervous system returns many physiological functions to normal levels while the body focuses resources to react to or fight the stressor
  • Blood glucose levels remain high, cortisol and adrenalin continue to circulate at elevated levels, but your outward appearance appears normal
  • You have an increase in heart rate, blood pressure and breathing
  • Your body remains on alert, just in case

Stage 3: Exhaustion

  • If the stressor continues beyond the bodies’ capacity, you exhaust your resources and become susceptible to disease and eventually death in extreme circumstances

Feeling stressed – Contact EAP Assist for support