In modern society, stress is deemed to be one of the most influential factors for many physical and emotional diseases.
Also, stress is something everyone experienced already and most likely is familiar with on a regular basis.
As the American Psychological Association conducted in 2017, 3 out of 4 Americans experienced at least one stress symptom within one month
This article will deal with what stress is, it’s short- and long-term consequences, how to manage it and how our perception needs to change.
1. What is stress?
If you want to know how to manage stress to improve happiness and productivity, first you need to know what it is.
Stress is, in short, the releasing of hormones like cortisol and adrenaline.
This is important in new and challenging situations, as these hormones provide a boost of energy by raising your heart- and breath rate.
Often referred to as the “fight or flight” mode, the source of stress can vary from facing a bear in the woods to being overworked at the job. While the latter is usually more relatable, it is also more dangerous.
When experiencing stress once in a while, there are no repercussions for your health.
However, when enduring it over long periods of time, it can lead to short- and long-term health problems.
2. Types of stress
Stress can be physically (e.g. sleeping too much or too few) or emotionally (e.g. going through an intense break-up) evoked.
After experiencing stress for longer periods of time, it will always have emotional AND physical consequences.
How strong these consequences are is determined, in part, by the intensity and frequency of it.
To measure the different intensities and their typical effects on the individual, stress has been categorized into three stages.
2.1 Acute stress
Acute stress mostly refers to single-of situations like a bicycle accident or a big fuck-up at your workplace.
Even though it causes emotional distress, stomach complications and muscular tensions among other symptoms in the immediate-term, this type of stress is not long lasting and might actually be more beneficial than harmful in the long run.
The reason for this is that the challenging nature of the situation will help your body and brain to “practice” for similar events in the future and therefore is able to cope with stressful situations in a better way from there on.
2.2 Episodic acute stress
If acute stress is evoked too frequently, it will turn into episodic acute stress.
Another reason why someone might suffer from episodic acute stress is his personality. Some of the character traits that are often linked to episodic acute stress are:
- putting too many tasks and responsibilities on oneself
- chaotic lifestyle
- trouble with keeping up in-depth social relationships
Over time, episodic acute stress will worsen your relationships, promote overeating and drug consumption and set the stage for serious diseases like depression and heart disease.
2.3. Chronic stress
Chronic stress, the third and most powerful category of stress is witnessed when there is too much to put up with for long periods of time that can exceed month and even years.
In this case, the individual gives up on finding solutions to their problems and accepts the depressing and energy-drained state of mind as a permanent reality.
While constant overexposure to problems and challenges might resolve in chronic stress, other causes for it are traumatic experiences or even adopting a certain worldview (e.g. The fear of death at all times or the pressure to perform constantly).
As you can imagine, the effects of chronic stress are the most harmful and dangerous ones and someone who experiences it should look into professional help.
These effects include:
- highly increased risk of suicide
- violence towards self and others
- heart attacks
3. The effects of negative stress
First of all, let’s take a look at the short time effects of exposing yourself to a lot of stress.
Generally speaking, experiencing a lot of stress will have an impact on every aspect of your life.
Physically, you might feel a reduced sex drive, fatigue and trouble sleeping.
the emotional consequences consist of increasing sadness, restlessness and a sense of isolation.
Additionally, your behaviors change, expressing nervousness with nail-biting or having troubles socializing. As well as disruptive sleep and eating patterns.
Even your cognitive abilities will be affected, ranging from impaired judgment to worsened memory.
While these short- to medium-term problems are already reason enough to reduce stress, the heavy end of stress-induced problems lay in the long-term.
Over the long run, stress can express itself in many different ways. While each body reacts to stress differently and everyone copes with it in his own way, there is a range of symptoms that can occur.
These symptoms include:
- diarrhea and inflammations in your digestive system
- high blood pressure
- weight gain (especially in the hip region)
- increased risks for depression, dementia, and Alzheimer
- increased risk of cardiovascular disease
- muscle spasms
- infertility, erectile dysfunction, and premature ejaculation
- hair loss and worsening skin conditions
This is only a part of the potential risks involving too much stress over long periods of time. As you can see once again, stress will wear down your body AND mind.
4. How to reduce stress:
So now that this article made you stress out even more about the stress you are experiencing in your life, let’s take a look at how you can effectively reduce negative stress.
The best answer to this is no magic pill or secret formula, but a good balance in your life and a healthy approach to it.
4.1 develop good eating habits!
By eating regularly, you can make sure that your body is always stocked up with glucose, making it easier for you to perform on a higher level and stress out less about the tasks you have ahead of you.
Also, don’t just eat anything. Your body and brain need healthy fats like omega-3, vitamins, and minerals.
Additionally, there are a lot of foods which can help your body cope with the negative by-products your body is creating when experiencing stress.
Blueberries – are a great source of antioxidants, combating the free radicals that are a by-product of stress.
Salmon – having big chunks of omega-3 will help your brain function optimally. Which is directly related to lower stress levels and reduced levels of depression.
Oatmeal – inherit healthy and complex carbs. Something our brain craves for when putting under pressure. Also keeps you fuller for longer periods of time, fighting against the urge to eat unhealthily when put under stress.
Leafy greens – Kale, spinach and other leafy greens have a great deal of folate, responsible for producing dopamine and serotonin. Also referred to as the “happy brain chemicals”.
Red bell peppers – are the most concentrated natural source of vitamin C. When you have enough of it in your system, it can stop cortisol production, which is a stress hormone and causes a lot of the negative impact discussed earlier.
Obviously, only eating stress-reducing foods will not make a good and healthy diet on their own.
If you want to take a more in-depth look at nutrition and diet, this article might be the perfect start for you:
4.2 The importance of sleep!
Sleep is vital for your body and your well-being.
While most people think of not enough sleep as the source of stress, too much sleep has similar effects.
That being said, if your body is not able to recover properly overnight, the threshold of enduring stress and taking on challenges is lowered significantly.
The recommended amount of sleep for a young adult is 7-9 hours.
While the consequences of insufficient sleep might be limited if it is an exception, bad sleeping practices and patterns will have their greatest impact in the long run.
If you want to read up on how to optimize your sleep, the following article will be of good use for you:
Exercising in the gym or going for a run does not only do wonders for your body, but it also stimulates your brain and releases the tensions that build up over the course of the day.
Furthermore, a healthy and fit body is better prepared to fight off stress and to build resistance against it.
Learning relaxations techniques like meditation takes time and practice.
Optimally, you want to meditate every day, even if it is just for a short time (10 minutes) to maintain and improve on your skills.
But it will pay off big time, relaxing your body, clearing your mind, resetting focus and stimulating your senses
4.5 Don’t do drugs!
Even though drugs seem like a relief to escape the everyday stress, they will only assist you in managing stress in a short time.
Over a longer time-span, drug consumptions weaken your ability to cope with stress and weaken your body simultaneously
Of course, it is okay to enjoy an occasional beer or two, but doing drugs as a frequent response to the stress you are experiencing will not help you reduce it in total!
4.6 Take breaks!
Taking breaks is important. It not only re-sharpens your focus, but it is also a significant part in reducing stress.
doing small breaks of 15 minutes every 50-90 minutes will help you to reach maximum productivity, without exceeding a reasonable stress-level.
If you want to read up on the perfect break frequency and length, head over to:
Go out, meet friends or just crash in front of your tv with your partner (by the way, sex helps reducing stress as well). Take your head off the problems you are facing and the worries you are thinking about.
The world spins not just because of your job, demanding parents or relationship problems. Even if it seems like that sometimes.
Remind yourself of the good things in life and appreciate the ones that share it with you.
4.8 Seek professional help!
Finally, seeking professional help is not a shame, and you don’t have to have severe depression to see a psychologist.
If it’s just for the sake of reducing stress and coping with a busy period in your life, that is perfectly reasonable.
If you are now thinking that you’d wish to implement these changes in your life, but lack will-power or motivation.
This article is what you need to find the motivation not only to start but also to pull through with it:
5. Can you have too little stress?
For the first half of this article, the bad influences of stress have been examined.
And while it is important to know about stress and what it can potentially do to you, demonizing it too heavily, so that you just want to avoid it at all cost, is not the right approach either.
In fact, as mentioned earlier, stress improves your productivity and performance. Something an Emerging Athlete is always interested in.
To illustrate this, let’s take a look at the Yerkes-Dodson-law:
As you can see the so-called “eustress” part is where there are optimal performance and productivity, without having the unwanted side-effects of fatigue, exhaustion and health problems.
Another take away from the law is, that reducing stress under a certain threshold will have boredom and a feeling of satisfaction as a result, suggesting that there is not only a top limit to the amount of stress that is healthy and helps you reach your goals but also a bottom one.
This is why it is important to constantly evaluate the amount of stress you experience and apply the stress-reduction techniques listed above accordingly while making sure you have enough of it in your life to make it help you reach your aims and goals.
6. Changing the perception of stress
While doing research for this article, I encountered an extraordinary number of websites that try to get people away from stress as much as possible.
It got to the point where I felt scared to put myself under too much stress in everyday life.
As you can read in the top part of the article, the possible impact of stress on your mind and body can be disastrous and crippling.
Nonetheless, a number of TED-Talks and in particular Kelly McGonigal’s “how to befriend stress” caught my attention and changed the way I perceived stress.
In this talk, she mentions studies of how people who view stress not as a horrible, energy-draining and body-tearing feeling, but rather as an enabler to overcome big and important tasks, don’t show an increased death rate. While people that think of it as a solely negative power in their life, definitely show higher death rates and other related diseases like depression.
Moreover, she gives rise to the idea that looking at stress in a positive, empowering, way might, to a certain extent, actually result in stress being beneficial for your mental and physical health.
Because 15 minutes is not too long for a video with the ability to change your perception of stress and greatly improve your well-being with it, I highly recommend watching it and forming your own opinion about it:
Another way which might help you view stress in a more positive light is the thought of stress management being a skill you can practice.
Just like stimulating muscles in the gym and putting on more weight for progression.
Putting yourself under more pressure, while maintaining a positive mindset and a healthy lifestyle could make you more resilient against stress.
This idea can also be expressed using the Yerkes-Dodson-law
Alex Charfen explores this idea besides giving an overall compelling talk in his very own TED-Talk
7. Closing thoughts
Concluding, stress has the potential to be an enabler and to help you reach high productivity. Nonetheless, a positive attitude towards stress and a balanced life are the fundament for happiness and high performance.
However, if you still find yourself in a position where the pressure becomes too much to handle, remember to:
- satisfy your cravings with healthy food
- exercise to release tensions
- take short breaks to calm down and refocus
- take long breaks to socialize and not think about whatever causes the stress
- sleep a healthy amount
So now that stress has been thoroughly discussed, including it’s bad and potentially its good sides, what do you guys think about stress?
Do you view it as something you want to abolish in your life and reduce as much as possible?
Or do you view it as the engine that helps you when faced with life´s most difficult challenges?
Feel free to leave a comment below and engage in the conversation!