Stress: the good, the bad, and the ugly
Stress is like a switch. It’s either on or off! And when you don’t allow your body and mind to get out of a stressed state this will cause you to feel and look stressed.
18 December 2017
So what’s stressing you right now?
- Unpaid bills?
- Relationship problems?
- Difficult colleague?
- Looming exams?
- Feeling overworked?
We all face stressful challenges. But it's important that we don't let it take control of our lives. Stress only becomes a problem when we fail to manage it.
What can stress look like?
Backaches, neck aches, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), uncontrolled food cravings, difficulty sleeping, loss of appetite and/or excessive alcohol intake can all be symptoms of stress.
At times it can be difficult to identify when you are stressed, as stress is like a snake that creeps up on you when you least expect it.
Causes of Stress
We all react to stressful events differently. What can cause stress in one person may not cause stress in another. The causes of stress may be internal or external. Internal factors are as a result of a person’s characteristic and are usually self-generated, while external factors are stimuli outside of the individual.
Internal factors may include, pessimism, the perception of situations, unrealistic expectations, inability to adapt to change and unhelpful thoughts about life. On the other hand, external factors stem from issues arising from work, school or family issues; as well as financial or relationship difficulties.
Stressors do not only take negative forms but positive ones too! An example could be getting a promotion or getting married. The thought of it and the preparations for it can throw you into a stressful moment, but the feeling after could bring you great joy!
However, there are situations where stress may be a result of conditions such as anxiety, depression or posttraumatic stress conditions. What causes stress depends, at least in part, on your perception of it.
The Good, Bad and Ugly Sides of Stress
Anything that places high demands on you can be stressful. The power of stress is that it can give you the kick that you need to achieve great things or simply destroy you!
Stress can boost your mood! Focusing on the positive aspects of stress can help you turn stress around. Stress can be a great motivating force. Where you strive to do better, reach further and work harder.
This type of stress is referred to as Eustress. There are many triggers for this type stress, which can keep us feeling alive and excited about life.
In a way, stress helps your body to prepare to face challenging moments or danger ahead. One important fact to note about Eustress is that it is acute and therefore does not prolong over a long period of time.
The bad form of stress manifests itself in physical and emotional effects such as headaches, fatigue, alcoholism, smoking, irritability and chronic muscle pain.
When stress becomes bad it creates tension and you may not be able to handle the situations at hand and at times, in the absence of the stressor, you are unable to return to a relaxed state.
Whereas good stress provides an opportunity for creativity and growth, bad stress reduces productivity and creativity. Therefore one loses their joy and happiness.
Our bodies are not devised for chronic stress and therefore when we face chronic stress for an extended period of time, things start to become UGLY!!!
The most dangerous thing about stress is how easily it can creep up on you. Stress that lasts for very prolonged periods can begin to take a serious toll on your body.
Long-term stress can lead to various health problems, and research shows that a high percentage of doctor visits are for stress related illnesses.
Stress can cause other extreme problems in one's physical, psychological and social health. It can cause relationship problems too, as one may be quick to anger and overact on trivial issues. Stress can also lead to high blood pressure and other serious health conditions.
The key difference between the negative and positive sides of stress is how you perceive the stressful situation.
If you perceive it as something within your capacity and that you have the ability to overcome it, the result will be a positive effect. However, if you perceive it as something outside your capacity in that you can't do anything about it, the result will be a negative effect.
Although stress is normal and can’t be completely avoided, the trick is to be able to regulate, monitor and completely harness stress so that you are able to benefit from it rather than suffer from it.
Making the effort to cut out as much chronic stress as possible, changing your perception of it is also key. If you change your perception of stress it can indeed prevent an unhealthy stress crisis.
You are what you think, so if you make stress your friend you are on to a winner.
About the author
Dr Funke Baffour is a Chartered Clinical Psychologist, Nutritional Advisor, and Associate Fellow of the Society, as well as an author, illustrator, and one of the UK's leading contributors to psychology in the media.