(Nearly) all you wanted to know about what stress is

What is stress?

Stress is a word that’s thrown around an awful lot but what exactly is it? I’ve been involved in trying to help people enjoy their teaching more for many years and enjoyed many discussions focused on trying to understand this word. Needless to say, there are an awful lot of definitions but the one I like is this one, although I’m not sure where I read it:

“Stress occurs when the pressures of a situation are greater than the capacity of our resources to cope.”

Whether or not this is your definition of stress matters little really as feeling stressed is a personal experience which varies so much between people. Having said that, I suspect we’ve all understand the definition and have also found ourselves in the position described at one time and another!!

Stress is something that can hit us all. Sometimes it’s a bit heavier and more persistent than others and naturally some of us are more prone to experiencing stress or feeling more stressed than others. And our ability to be un-stressed by a situation changes through time even if the situation doesn’t.

What make us stressed? 

I think that we get stressed when a couple of factors work together. These are:

1. The situation/s we face – this, or these, can  come from outside of us or come from within us. External situations can appear from many sources such as events in the world, at work, in the family or with friends. These may be things that have happened or are going to happen or that we think might happen. As you probably know, internal situations can also come from a large number of sources such as a physical illness or mental strain.

And because we can rarely do anything about these situations it makes things seem even worse to us. However, this doesn’t stop us from wanting things to be different – perhaps we want things to be as they ought or should be. And this always adds fuel to the fire.

2. The resources we have – the resources we have at our disposal to cope with what life brings us is definitely something we can do something about this. That’s good news! Rarely can we alter the situations and events that we live within but we can influence hugely our response because this depends upon what resources we have. And this community is about  adding to your resource bank so that you can influence the only thing you can – your response to events. This is what will make you feel less stressed. 

Is stress good for you?

No.

To me stress is not a good thing. I know that many people in our modern culture hold the view that a little bit of stress is good for us because it keeps us on our toes, makes us more focused and makes us work efficiently and effectively. Not so in my experience. It harms you. Physically, mentally and emotionally. 

Of course, we’re designed to respond to stressful situations with alertness so we avoid being hurting too much. But my preference is for us to lead lives without feeling stressed at all. And we can. And this community will help you do this.

What are the tell-tale signs of stress?

However you define stress or even if you don’t define it at all, you know when you’re stressed. You just know.Here’s a question: “How do you know when you’re stressed?”  

How does stress let you know it’s there? What messages are you getting from your body, mind or other people telling you that you’re not quite coping as well as you could be or usually do with everything going on around you?  

I think the most common signs that we’re stressed are in to be found in our bodies. This is to be expected I suppose as stress is a response to something or some person/people that we probably have no or little response to. Of course, this “situation” could be real or imaginary but it seems real to us. 

But why do we feel it most (and first?) in our bodies? Because the body responds to the ‘situation’ by increasing the production of certain chemicals which activate the body and mind in one way and calls us to action so we can defend ourselves against the “threat”. This is essential as it protects us. 

But allied to this is that when we are stressed our body also reduces the production of other chemicals which cause us to activate the mind and body in the other way: towards being relaxed and calm. But the good news is that we can consciously influence the production of these chemicals so that we are no longer at the mercy of “situations”. Now that’s a great place to get to! Isn’t it?

What are your tell-tale signs that you are stressed or becoming stressed? Do you know them? I have four such tell-tale signs that tell me that I am moving into a stressed state are:

  1. Clenched fists 
  2. Hunched shoulders
  3. Anxiety dreams
  4. Stomach issues – say no more!

I used to see these as problems but eventually I realised they were, in fact, messages from me to me. Messages to try to get me to change how I reacted to whatever it was that was going on around me or in my head. Once I saw these signs in this way, as a sort or early warning system, I started to be able to take control of my responses more and more. And life became a lot easier.

The most common effects of stress are:

1. On your body

  • Increased headaches, muscle tension, chest pain, tiredness, blood pressure, heart problems, cold sweaty hands and feet, dry mouth and difficulty swallowing, clenched jaw and grinding of teeth
  • Changes in sex drive and sleep patterns

Do you recognise yourself here?

2. On your mood

  • Increased anxiety, worry, restlessness, irritability, anger, frustration, moodiness, sadness, depression, negativity, avoidance of other people
  • Lowered self-esteem, focus, ability to judge, positivity, productivity at work
  • Generally you feel unlike your true self, less loveable to others and yourself
  • A feeling grows that others don’t understand you and your thinking become slower, less rational and more judgemental

Do you recognise yourself here?

3. On your behaviour

  • Changes in your appetite – it may diminish or you may overeat or even swing between the two
  • Increase in procrastination, avoidance of your responsibilities, reliance upon alcohol/drugs/tobacco and nervousness (such as nail biting, fidgeting, and/or pacing)
  • Decrease in your energy, enthusiasm for life, and quality of sleep

Do you recognise yourself here?

I’ve been to pretty much all of these places at one time or another. But I have learnt what they are telling me. And you can too, of course!

In summary:

  • You are stressed when you can’t cope (or should we say “cope well”?) with what is happening to you.
  • Feeling stressed is not a good thing.
  • Stress impacts poorly upon your physical health, your mental health, your emotional well-being as well as your behaviour.
  • If you don’t tackle your stress you’re increasing the likelihood of having more illnesses and probably an increase in the severity of any existing illnesses.
  • The community aims to help reduce stress.