The science of stress: Practical strategies for improved well-being

If stress overwhelms you, don’t hesitate to contact a professional. (Photo sourced from Pexels)
If stress overwhelms you, don’t hesitate to contact a professional. (Photo sourced from Pexels)

Written by: Khloe Mace

Editor’s note: The following article was written in partnership with Counseling Services.

Today, we will delve into the world of stress, exploring its definition, different types and practical strategies for managing it. Stress is a common experience that affects us physically and psychologically, influencing our thoughts, emotions and behaviors. 

The American Psychological Association defines stress as: “the physiological or psychological response to internal or external stressors.” It can manifest in various ways, including anxiety, sleep disturbances, digestive issues and appetite changes. Ignoring or neglecting stress can have long-term consequences on our overall well-being.

Let’s begin by understanding the two forms of stress: eustress and distress. Eustress, defined by the American Psychological Association, refers to “the positive stress response.” It often occurs when we engage in challenging tasks with confidence and excitement. Examples of these situations include:

  • Competing in a sports event
  • Giving a speech
  • Playing a challenging video game

   Eustress can have beneficial effects, such as boosting our sense of accomplishment and personal growth.

On the other hand, distress is the negative stress response. It arises when we feel overwhelmed, unable to cope or panicked. People often refer to distress when they mention “stress,” as it can leave us doubtful about our circumstances. However, distress can also motivate individuals to address and resolve underlying stressors. If you’ve ever been in a moment of distress, think about how you handled it. If you managed it poorly, try to reassure yourself of your ability to conquer it next time.

Now, let’s explore the duration of stress. There are two types of stress concerning time: acute and chronic. Acute stress is short-term and typically arises in response to specific situations, such as trying to meet a project deadline or arguing with a loved one. Although acute stress can negatively impact our health if prolonged, it usually subsides within a brief period. Acute stress symptoms include irritability, difficulty concentrating, sleep disturbances, aggression and moodiness.

In contrast, long-term chronic stress often results from prolonged exposure to a stressful environment. Examples of chronic stressors include a failing marriage, a hostile workplace or ongoing challenging life events. Even when the stressor is not physically present, remembrances of it can feed chronic stress, as the American Psychological Association explains. Chronic stress can severely affect our mental and physical well-being, so do what you can to remove yourself from those environments when possible.

It’s important to note that there is a mental health condition called Acute Stress Disorder (ASD), which can develop within a month of experiencing a traumatic event. Traumatic events, such as surviving a mass shooting, sexual assault or a severe car accident, can trigger ASD. This disorder differs from acute stress, as it stems from a specific cause and requires professional attention.

To effectively manage stress, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends the following practical resources and strategies:

1. Create time for self-care activities: Prioritize relaxation and self-care in your daily routine. Consider activities like a spa day, spending time in nature or getting enough sleep to recharge your mind and body.

2. Take care of your health: Nourish your body with nutritious food, exercise regularly and avoid substances like alcohol and drugs. A healthy lifestyle provides the energy and nutrients needed to cope with stress.

3. Connect with a community: Engage in activities or join a community that shares your interests or beliefs. Connecting with others provides social support, which can help alleviate stress and foster a sense of belonging.

4. Seek professional help: If stress overwhelms your daily life, don’t hesitate to contact a healthcare provider. They can guide you towards appropriate resources and recommend professionals like psychologists, social workers or therapists specializing in stress management.

Everyone experiences stress differently, so it’s crucial to find strategies that work best for you. By understanding the different types of stress and implementing these practical resources, you can take proactive steps toward managing stress effectively and improving your overall well-being.

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