We all talk about stress, but what is it? Stress comes from both the good and the bad things that happen to us, and it is a normal reaction to the demands in our lives. Stress may feel overwhelming at times, but there are many strategies to help you take control.
What causes stress? We become “stressed” when we feel the demands in our lives are too difficult for us to handle. When our brains perceive a situation to be threatening, our bodies release a sudden rush of hormones that send us into an automatic “fight, flight or freeze” instinct. This biological event is called the “stress response.”
For example, you might feel stressed before an exam, and may respond in one of three ways:
- Fight: you may get really frustrated when writing the exam;
- Flight: you many try to avoid the exam;
- Freeze: you begin writing the exam and suddenly forget everything.
All three of these reactions are normal responses activated by the stress response. The causes and impacts of stress are different for everyone because people respond to their experiences and challenges differently.
Types of stress:
Stress is not always a bad thing! Some stress can be a good for us. Sometimes stress can motivate us to focus on a task or take action to solve a problem. Other times, stress can bring us down and damage our concentration, making us feel poorly about ourselves and our abilities.
Positive stress (eustress):
- Motivates and energizes;
- Adds moments of excitement;
- Helps us to accomplish tasks.
Negative stress (distress):
- Negatively impacts our emotions, physical body and thoughts;
- Our response to negative stress is individual to us;
- The impact of negative stress may differ from situation to situation.
Things that stress us out:
“Stressors” are the events, situations or people that cause us to feel stress or be stressed out. Here are some things that might cause you stress:
External stressors: Life happens and sometimes we don’t have control over it! External stressors are just that – events or situations that cause stress, but are out of our control. Most of us will encounter many external stressors in our everyday life, but here are a few examples:
- Being embarrassed;
- Fighting with friends;
Highly stressful external stressors include:
- Death of a family member, friend or pet;
- A parent’s divorce;
- Physical, emotional or sexual abuse;
- Physical or mental illness;
- Physical or mental illness of a friend or family member;
- Sexual identity.
Internal stressors: Internal stressors are the things we do to ourselves, or the choices we make that lead to or increase stress. Although we do, we may feel we have no control over some of these stressors.
Some common examples include:
- Focusing on problems or situations;
- Pressure to succeed;
- Not making decisions/avoidance;
- Low self-esteem;
- Negative thinking;
- Feeling disorganized.
Do you know your stressors? If you are able to identify your own stressors, it’s easier to find ways to handle stress in a healthy way.