How to deal with stress, and other stress-related FAQs.
A collection of answers to 10 of the most frequently asked questions surrounding the condition of stress.
Published: Tuesday 07 March 2023
Stress is a normal part of life, and it’s something that everyone experiences at one point or another. However, if stress is not managed properly, it can lead to negative affects on both physical and mental health, so it’s important to understand the condition in its entirety and learn the ways it can be dealt with.
In this article, our experts have answered 10 of the most frequently asked questions on this common condition, from what stress is and its causes, to the different techniques that can be used to reduce its impact. Whether you’re dealing with stress yourself or want to learn more about it to help someone else, this article covers a wide variety of stress-related topics to help increase your understanding of the condition.
1. What is stress?
Stress is a psychological and physiological response to a perceived threat or challenge. It is a natural reaction to a demanding or threatening situation, which can be either positive or negative. Stress can be caused by a range of factors, including work-related pressures, financial difficulties, relationship problems, and health issues. The body often responds to these stressors by producing a series of ‘stress hormones’.
2. What is the stress hormone?
The stress hormone is known as cortisol, and it is produced by the adrenal glands when our bodies are faced with stress. Cortisol is a type of steroid hormone, meaning it suppresses inflammation in bodily tissues, can impact metabolism and can affect circadian rhythms. It also regulates blood pressure and blood sugar levels.
When the body is under stress, cortisol levels rise, triggering the body’s fight or flight response. As well as this, adrenaline is also produced, and the combination of these hormones leads to a raised heart rate and increased blood pressure, preparing the body to take action or flee the stressor.
However, prolonged or regular stress, and therefore continuous high levels of cortisol in the body can have damaging effects on a person’s health. This could lead to weight gain, an increased risk of anxiety and depression, high blood pressure, acne, headaches and muscle weakness.
3. What are the 3 types of stress?
According to the American Psychological Association, there are stress can be classified into 3 different groups based on their source and how long they appear to last for :
- Acute stress: This is the most common type of stress, and it's the body's immediate response to a perceived threat or danger. Acute stress can be triggered by a range of experiences, from a near miss in traffic to a work deadline, and it typically causes a temporary increase in heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rate.
- Chronic stress: This type of stress occurs when a person experiences ongoing stress over a prolonged period of time, such as from financial difficulties, a toxic work environment, or chronic illness. Chronic stress can have long-term effects on the body, including increased risk of cardiovascular disease, mental health problems, and immune system dysfunction.
- Episodic acute stress: This type of stress occurs when a person experiences frequent episodes of acute stress, often caused by poor time management, overcommitment, or chronic worrying. People who experience episodic acute stress may feel like they're always in a state of crisis and may have difficulty relaxing or calming down. This type of stress can lead to burnout, anxiety disorders, and other health problems if left untreated.
4. What causes stress?
Stress can be caused by a variety of factors, including :
- Work-related stress: Job pressure, long hours, high workload, lack of control over work tasks and job insecurity can all contribute to stress.
- Personal relationships: Relationship difficulties, breakups, and family conflicts can cause stress.
- Financial stress: Financial worries such as debt, unemployment, or unexpected expenses can be a significant source of stress.
- Health problems: Chronic health conditions or a sudden illness can cause stress.
- Life changes: Major life changes such as divorce, moving house, or the death of a loved one can cause significant stress.
- Environmental factors: Natural disasters, pollution, noise, and other environmental factors can contribute to stress.
- Trauma: Physical, emotional, sexual abuse, or a traumatic event such as a car accident or violent crime can lead to sudden severe stress.
- Poor lifestyle habits: Lack of exercise, poor diet, and inadequate sleep can all contribute to stress.
- Overcommitment: Taking on too many responsibilities or commitments, and trying to do too much in too little time can cause stress.
It's important to note that the causes of stress are highly individual and what might be stressful for one person may not be stressful for another.
5. How does stress affect the body?
Stress can have a wide range of negative effects on the body, both in the short term and over time . Here are some health conditions that stress can contribute to or exacerbate:
- Cardiovascular disease: Chronic stress can increase the risk of developing high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke by causing the heart to work harder and narrowing blood vessels.
- Mental health problems: Stress can contribute to or worsen mental health problems such as anxiety disorders, depression, and substance abuse.
- Digestive problems: Stress can lead to a range of digestive problems, including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), acid reflux, and stomach ulcers.
- Immune system dysfunction: Chronic stress can weaken the immune system, making it more difficult for the body to fight off infections and illnesses.
- Skin conditions: Stress can cause or worsen skin conditions such as acne, eczema, and psoriasis.
- Reproductive problems: Stress can contribute to infertility, erectile dysfunction in men, and menstrual problems in women.
- Headaches: Stress can trigger tension headaches and migraines.
It's important to note that stress is just one factor that can contribute to these health conditions, and not everyone who experiences stress will develop them. However, reducing stress levels can help improve overall health and reduce the risk of developing these and other health problems.
6. Does stress make you tired?
Stress can make you feel tired or fatigued. When you experience stress, your body releases hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, which trigger the "fight or flight" response and prepare your body to respond to a perceived threat. This response can cause an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rate, and can also cause the body to release glucose into the bloodstream for energy.
While this response can be helpful in the short term, chronic stress can cause a range of negative effects on the body, including fatigue. Over time, the constant release of stress hormones can wear out the body's energy reserves, leading to feelings of tiredness and exhaustion.
Additionally, stress can interfere with sleep, making it difficult to get a good night's rest. Lack of sleep can further contribute to feelings of tiredness and fatigue.
If you're feeling tired due to stress, it's important to take steps to manage your stress levels and prioritise self-care, such as getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet, and engaging in relaxation techniques like deep breathing or meditation.
7. Can stress cause high blood pressure?
Stress can cause high blood pressure, at least temporarily . When you are under stress, your body produces a surge of hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol, that can cause your heart to beat faster and your blood vessels to narrow. In turn, this can raise your blood pressure.
This increase in blood pressure is often temporary, and once the stressor is removed, your blood pressure will return to normal. If you experience chronic stress, your blood pressure may remain elevated for longer periods of time, which can increase your risk of developing hypertension (chronic high blood pressure).
It's important to note that stress is one of many factors that can contribute to high blood pressure, and not everyone who experiences stress will develop hypertension. Other risk factors for hypertension include a family history of high blood pressure, being overweight or obese, smoking, and not getting enough exercise.
8. How to deal with stress?
There are many ways to relieve stress, and different techniques may work better for different people. Here are some effective ways to reduce stress :
- Exercise: Physical activity can help reduce stress and improve mood by releasing endorphins (the body's natural feel-good chemicals). Regular exercise, such as walking, running, or yoga, can help reduce stress levels over time.
- Relaxation techniques: Techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, and progressive muscle relaxation can help calm the mind and reduce physical tension in the body.
- Time management: Poor time management can contribute to stress. Setting priorities, making to-do lists, and delegating tasks can help you feel more in control and reduce feelings of stress.
- Social support: Spending time with friends and family or talking to a therapist or counsellor can help reduce stress and provide emotional support.
- Hobbies: Engaging in hobbies and leisure activities can provide a sense of enjoyment and relaxation, which can help reduce stress.
- Sleep: Getting enough sleep is crucial for stress management. Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep each night, and practise good sleep hygiene, such as avoiding screens before bedtime and creating a relaxing sleep environment.
- Healthy habits: Eating a healthy diet, limiting caffeine and alcohol, and avoiding smoking can all help reduce stress levels and improve overall health.
Remember that it's important to find stress-relief techniques that work for you and make them a regular part of your routine.
9. Does crying relieve stress?
It may come as a surprise, but crying can help relieve stress and promote emotional well-being. When you cry, your body releases chemicals called endorphins, which can help improve your mood and reduce feelings of pain and stress.
It can also be a way to express and release pent-up emotions, which can help you feel better emotionally. By shedding tears, you may be able to release negative emotions, such as sadness, anger, or frustration, and feel a sense of emotional relief afterward.
Research has also shown that crying can have physical benefits, such as reducing levels of stress hormones like cortisol and helping to regulate your autonomic nervous system, which controls your body's automatic functions like heart rate and breathing.
Overall, while crying may not be a cure-all for stress, it can be a healthy and natural way to cope with difficult emotions and promote emotional well-being.
10. How do you sleep with stress?
Managing stress is an essential part of promoting good sleep. Here are some tips for sleeping with stress :
- Establish a bedtime routine: Create a regular sleep routine by going to bed and waking up at the same time every day (even on the weekends). This helps regulate your body's internal clock and can make it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep.
- Practice relaxation techniques before bedtime: Try relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, or progressive muscle relaxation. These techniques can help calm your mind and body, making it easier to fall asleep.
- Avoid stimulating activities before bed: Avoid activities that are stimulating or stressful before bed, such as work-related tasks, exercise, or watching the news. Instead, try reading a book or taking a warm bath.
- Create a comfortable sleep environment: Make sure your sleep environment is cool, dark, and quiet. Invest in comfortable bedding, pillows, and a supportive mattress to ensure that you are comfortable and well-rested.
- Manage stress during the day: Try to manage stress during the day by incorporating stress-reducing activities such as exercise, socialising, or practising mindfulness. This can help prevent stress from interfering with your sleep at night.
If your stress levels are persistent and are impacting your sleep and daily functioning, it may be helpful to speak to a healthcare professional or therapist who can offer additional support and guidance.
In conclusion, stress is a completely natural response of the body to any demand or challenge. However, chronic or consistent stress can have negative effects on physical and mental health, so it’s important to identify any potential stress triggers and implement healthy management techniques to cope with stress effectively, and live a healthy lifestyle.