In every day language, the word “stress” is often used ,to describe a state of discomfort, or an unpleasant one is going through, that one would rather not be in. However in psychological terms, this term refers to any emotional, physical and psychological strain or tension naturally caused by a change in one’s circumstance (also called as a ‘stressor’). While this stress may be related to discomfort, how one copes with the stressor and this discomfort determines our ability to adapt to the changes encountered. It is easy to understand how important this ability then is to one’s survival – or how it could be related to one’s self-efficacy (the belief in one’s own abilities) and other factors related to one’s quality of life.
Stress can be categorized into several types depending on the stressor and the capability of the individual to adapt to that stressor, as described below:
- Acute stress: extending for a shorter period of time and caused by challenging situations (stressors) in our day-to-day life. Example: you have to submit a project with an approaching deadline.
- Episodic acute stress: when acute stress occurs repeatedly. Example: being in a demanding job where several projects and assignments with deadlines pile up frequently.
- Chronic stress: when the stressor in present continually and unavoidable for a long period of time. Example: unfavorable situation at home, for instance stressful relationship with the in-laws.
When stressors relate to a ‘negative’, or unhealthy impact on an individual and their well-being, the resulting stress is termed as Distress. This impact can look like:
- Shortness of breath or rapid breathing,
- Changed appetite,
- Digestion issues,
- Lack of sleep,
- Headache or any physical ache,
- Muscle tension,
- Mood changes,
- Sweaty hands and trembling
A stress can also relate to a ‘positive’, or healthy impact on an individual, in helping them adapt to the changes in one’s situation. This type of stress is known as Eustress. Eustress is further known to be related in increased motivation, efficiency and productivity.
Some changes and stressors can be expected during specific stages of the human life span. For instance, children and teens in today’s time can experience stress, and even anxiety or panic related to academic pressure, peer pressure, the ‘fear of missing out’ (FOMO), body image issues, relationship issues etc. And young adults (aging between 20-29 years) may face stress related to peer pressure, pressure to perform well academically and work-wise, irregular lifestyles, romantic relationships and marriages, displacement, etc. In fact, it has been found that this group seems to be the most stressed as compared to other age groups. As for the elderly, changes as related to one’s aging and physiological functionality, nearing of life’s end for oneself and of spouses/friends, financial status, lifestyle changes, loneliness etc. may cause stress.
Specific mention needs to be made about the reduced quality of life generally experienced by individuals living with stigmatized social identities, such as those who are in the sexual or gender minorities, live with a mental illness. These individuals are likely to more stress through their life span, which has been shown to contribute to myriad negative physical and mental health outcomes for people of color and sexual and gender minorities, respectively. Understanding the mechanisms whereby these experiences of stress can be detrimental to the health and identity development of those with stigmatized identities is crucial to improve these outcomes.
As may be evident now, we know that stress impacts different individuals differently, making it subjective in nature. Imagine a workplace where projects with deadline come up creating a stressful environment. While the situation for any two colleagues might be similar in most aspects, their efficiency as employees might still differ, possibly because their situation is just one variable to look at if say, one is looking to understand to improve said efficiency, or their mental health. It may also be that for one employee, high stress acts as ‘eustress’ which helps them thrive in that condition, but for the other employee, this situation becomes distressing which leads them being less efficient. Thus, while a competitive environment might make someone efficient and productive, it could also have certain negative implications on that person as well.
COPING WITH STRESS AND TIME MANAGEMENT
So what could be a good way to manage one’s stress? While a person could opt to remove themselves from the vicinity of stressor (say, change one’s job or even their profession to another that feels less stressful), living a life without any stressors may not be possible or realistic. It is, however, possible to cope with the stress which is related to any disruption in our mental and physical health. Coping with stress, like the stress itself, is also subjective in nature, and can differ depending on each individual and/or situation.
Some common ways which can help cope with stress are:
- Balancing personal, professional and other aspects of life
- Eating well,
- Paying attention to your body and its needs
- Learning the difference between rest and sleep, and then observing your own needs through time,
- Limiting alcohol and substance use,
- Surrounding yourself with supportive people,
- Taking the time to move your body – using stretches through the day, exercising, through yoga and/or meditation,
- Giving time to your interests and hobbies,
- Taking a break when one feels overwhelmed,
- Setting and engaging in a replenishing self-care routine,
- Seeing a mental health professional
Additionally, being able to manage one’s time more effectively is also said to reduce stress. This can involve organizing and planning your time, distributing it to the different activities one performs on a daily basis. This could make a person’s approach smarter and easier, while cancel several unfavorable situations making the complete outlook of a person much more stress-free. It takes the person towards productivity and away from stress.
A few strategies that might help one manage time better are:
- Starting out by planning a schedule. This can be achieved by making a to-do list, journaling every night what you have done for the day and listing activities for tomorrow. This technique provides a push one might need in order to start their day.
- Forming SMART goals: keeping in mind that a goal is Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely. Here, goal refers to a point in an activity, assignment etc. a person wishes to reach. When that goal has the factors mentioned, it becomes easier to reach that goal since clarity is provided to our minds and going to the next step which is the action to reach the goal is carried on.
- Organizing and planning your space which would help you save time and work with a clearer mind. By practicing this, our mind is cleared off the unnecessary stressors.
Every individual is different, making their approach to deal with stress also different. Stress can act as a motivator to a certain point making an individual more efficient, but can also hinder one’s progress at a point. Keeping the coping methods and time management strategies in mind, it is also important to remember that as humans it is normal to sometimes get overwhelmed in the face of stress, and developing a support system with other people might also be a relevant and helpful coping strategy. Let’s see to this by caring of oneself and people around us.
This article was written by a trainee psychologist. But we were humans long before we began our training, and so are always looking to learn better! If you found that any of the above is inaccurate, irrelevant or unhelpful, or would like to suggest ways to make this article more helpful in any way, please let us know in the comments below.
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