We typically associate stress with a bad week at work, finding out that something we assumed would be easy to accomplish is now fraught with problems, wanting something badly while the waiting period drags on. Momentary stress can occur just before a public speech, going on a first date, during a first job interview. You might call that feeling anxiety, and though the terms might sometimes be used interchangeably, there is a clear difference between stress and anxiety.
According to experts, stress can really come from any situation or thought that makes you feel angry, nervous, frustrated or even anxious. It's important to note that what might be stressful for one person is not necessarily stressful for another person. Anxiety on the other hand, is often defined as a clear feeling of apprehension or fear. You typically know what is causing this feeling of uneasiness and that can actually add to your distress. Stress usually lasts for awhile (days, months even years) and often builds. In both cases you can experience symptoms that include sweaty palms, a faster heart rate, and an unpleasant, churning stomach. You may engage in hair pulling, biting your lip or your nails and you certainly may begin to suffer from insomnia. You can become stressed when negotiations in a deal go sour or become protracted. And in these tough economic times, health professionals believe that a significant percentage of the population is dealing with financial worries and difficulties that are creating ongoing and pervasive stress.
You know how you feel when you suddenly realize that you have slept past your alarm clock setting. You jump up and if you already work in a highly pressured environment, you imagine your boss fuming as you arrive late to work. We can call that anxiety or stress but the reality is that ongoing feelings like that are a part of many people's lives. Maybe you're the family breadwinner and now you are incurring debt because your salary has been reduced. Now, in addition to salary reduction, you find out your job may be eliminated. That can now mean days, months or longer looking for a new job, as your bills - especially the important ones like mortgage begin to go unpaid. You may lose the health insurance policy covering you and your family. That is stress and it's happening to people around the nation.
Different kinds of stress
Demands and pressure from recent past and new, anticipated demands can cause acute stress. In the short run it can be exhilarating - in the long run, taxing and exhausting. Most people identify and recognize acute stress, and because it's short term, it usually doesn't cause lasting or extensive damage. In fact, it can be exhilarating. But repeated bouts of short term stress can be harmful. Signs of short term stress include:
- Anger, irritability, anxiety, depression
- Tension headaches, back pain, jaw pain, muscular tension
- Elevations in blood pressure, rapid heart beat, sweaty palms, palpitations, dizziness, migraines, shortness of breath
- Stomach symptoms
When it is acute, episodic and repetitive, stress can cause feelings of constantly being in chaos. That feeling can extend the above described symptoms and over time they can become quite detrimental to your health. Doctors often identify a "Type A" personality as someone who is constantly experiencing bouts of stress because of the very nature of how they handle expectations of perfection. And Type A individuals can typically be very resistant to recognizing this ongoing personality problem, and accepting change.
Chronic stress can be very debilitating and destroy your body, your mind and certainly your relationships. Situations like poverty, a highly pressured work situation, and constant failures can break down the will of a person and put them into a state of unrelenting stress. You just can't see a way out of your plight; with no hope, you begin to give up. You may be programmed to chronic stress because of a difficult childhood or early life experiences. Chronic stress can then make the world threatening on a daily basis. If you actually become comfortable with this daily stress, you may begin to ignore it and not realize how detrimental it is to your health and well-being. Ultimately, chronic stress can put you at risk for suicide, violence from another, heart attack, stroke and some experts theorize cancer. You are actually vulnerable to what is commonly called a "nervous breakdown." Chronic stress can be very difficult to treat, and if it starts in childhood it can mean long term and escalating serious health and emotional issues.
So it's important to be able to recognize the signs of stress and to note if they are (a) appropriate to the circumstance and acute, or (b)repetitive with longer durations. Imagine your body having a dashboard with little glowing lights indicating various signs of stress. If you don't heed those warning signs there could be a major malfunction or breakdown. If you feel that you are losing control and overwhelmed it can signal stress. Here's a list of specific symptoms:
- Headaches including migraines
- Upset stomach, diarrhea, constipation, gas
- Dry mouth
- Chest pressure, pain
- Difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep
- Fatigue or loss of libido
- Increasing frequency of colds
- Lack of focus, concentration
- Loss of appetite or overeating comfort foods (carbohydrates)
- Memory problems
- Jitters, irritability
- Short temper
- Sudden shaking or feeling dizzy
- Excessive scratching, pulling hair, biting nails, acne
Published On: September 28, 2009