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What Is Stress? Here's Everything You Need To Know

What Is Stress? Learn The Basics of Stress and Stress Management


Updated May 15, 2014

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What Is Stress? Here's Everything You Need To Know

Just what is stress? Here's more info! (Photo from iStockPhoto.com)


What is stress? We hear the term 'stress' being thrown around so often, we may not realize that people mean different things when they're discussing stress. Just what is stress, and what do people mean by the term?


What Is Stress?

First, and answer to the question, 'What is stress?' The term 'stress' refers to the response you have when facing circumstances that force you to act, change, or adjust in some way to maintain your footing, or to keep things balanced. (The circumstances themselves are known as 'stressors', but we'll have more on them later.)

This stress response, also known as the fight-or-flight response, triggers many involuntary changes in your body, which give you an extra burst of energy so that you can fight or run away from perceived threats. This was a helpful response for us in earlier times, when most of the stresses we faced were physical--this burst of physical energy was needed to keep us alive in many cases. Nowadays, though, more and more of our threats are psychological--job stress, interpersonal conflict, etc.--and this response to stress, which can actually make us think less clearly, isn't always necessary, or even helpful.

Chronic Stress

When you face stressors often, and find that you have little control in these situations, you are at risk of experiencing chronic stress, which can affect your health in may negative ways. Having your stress response activated long-term, and not getting your body back to a state of relaxation can tax your system, leaving you overstimulated and depleted at the same time. Studies on health and stress have shown that stress can be a causal or contributing factor to virtually all major illnesses because chronic stress can lower immunity.


Stress Management Basics

No matter what the origin of stress is for you, there are some basic steps you can take to manage stress that you experience. I recommend that people approach stress from three angles:
  • Quick Stress Relief
    While quick stress relievers aren't a complete stress management plan in themselves, they are an excellent first line of defense against the effects of chronic stress. This is because they can help you turn off your body's stress response and respond to the stressors you face from a calm (or calmer), more relaxed place. This helps you to more effectively deal with what is stress, and keep yourself healthier at the same time. Common strategies for quick stress relief include breathing exercises or use of humor. (See this article for 5 Minute Stress Relief< strategies.)


  • Address The Situation
    This step is a little more individualized, but stress management is an important key. As previously discussed, stressed, overwhelmed people aren't always in the best position to solve problems, so once you find yourself in a calmer place (from the above exercises), you can work on addressing what is stress in your life. Relationship stress? Try learning some healthy communication strategies or assertive communication skills. Job stress? Learn to find job satisfaction at your current job, or take steps toward moving to a new one. Money stress? You can handle that, too, with some stress management techniques and financial advice resources. (Sometimes self-sabotage is at play; here are some strategies for people who are their own worst enemy.)


  • Long-Term Stress Management
    Another important part of a stress management plan is having some regular activities in your life that replenish you and help you become more resilient in facing what is stress in your daily life. Rather than waiting until you're overwhelmed by stress, if you make certain stress-relieving activities a habit, you'll be less reactive to stressors when you experience them, and you'll be more able to handle them when you face them. Some of these habits include meditation, exercise and the regular practice of having fun. (See this article for more strategies to become more emotionally resilient.)


For more information on stress management, subscribe to the Stress Management Newsletter--it's free! You can also find more information via the About Stress Management Facebook Page, follow me on Twitter, or sign up for other ongoing stress reduction resources, which are free.

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