What is stress defined as
What is stress and why do we need it?
Stress describes one's own physical and psychological reaction as well as the perceived exposure to certain external stimuli (stressors). Stress is used to adapt to changing situations and environmental conditions. People need stress. Because without the evaluation of external stimuli we would not be able to survive.
For example, if you hear a loud bang, you get startled and orient yourself in the direction from which the noise came. This startling and evaluating whether this bang could be threatening for you or not is what we understand by stress. “Fight or Flight” - this is the name given to this evolutionarily deeply anchored behavior. In this state, our organism is on the alert and ready to react quickly.
Naturally, stimuli such as noise, unpleasant smells or general dangerous situations were quickly over, so that the state of stress also subsided quickly. In today's society, the stressors have changed in such a way that we are less wary of acute, physical stressors such as attackers, but rather have to deal with psychological stress. These psychological stressors such as financial worries, anger with work colleagues, time pressure, pressure to perform, etc. do not subside as quickly as a loud bang. Instead, they persist for longer periods of time and manifest into what are known as chronic stressors. As a result, no relaxation reaction can occur over a long period of time and the organism is in a permanent state of alarm.
The causes of stress
People react very differently to stressors. What irritates one person leaves the other cold. This is due to the different evaluation of the stimulus. Someone who is sensitive to certain external stimuli assesses them as more relevant and is accordingly more stressed. People for whom punctuality is very important, for example, can feel very stressed if the bus does not come in the morning. Others do not care so much about punctuality and they stay relaxed inside. However, stimuli cannot only be assessed negatively. Positive stress (eustress) also exists and is perceived as pleasant.
Let's take a music concert as an example.
It is loud and glaring, but for the concertgoers, the situation is not threatening, but rather pleasing. Eustress motivates us to dance and sing in this situation. In other situations, eustress promotes maximum performance and increases alertness without harming our organism, e.g. before a sporting competition. Eustress has a positive effect on our body and our psyche. If this occurs frequently, we can also experience feelings of happiness after successfully coping with a situation.
However, a neighbor who lives near the concert hall and has had a strenuous day at work does not rate the noise as positive, but rather negative (distress). It can make him feel stressed as the loud music may keep him from getting a good night's sleep. Stress therefore results from the combination of external causes and internal evaluation.
What is stressing us?
Statistically, those affected feel stress in the following areas in particular:
- Financial worries
- Time pressure at work
- Family quarrel or anger
- Health concerns
- High demands on yourself
- Too many appointments and commitments in your free time
- Conflicts with loved ones
- Family obligations
- relationship problems
- In traffic
In the following, three categories of stress causes are listed, which are intended to give an overview of potential work-related stressors. A distinction is made between psychosocial causes of stress, stressful tasks and other external causes:
What happens in our body when we are under stress?
In order for stress to be experienced, external stimuli must first be perceived via the sensory organs such as eyes, ears or nose. These stimuli are then passed on to certain areas in the brain, which analyze and evaluate these stimuli.
One of these important areas is the amygdala. It is the fear center of the brain and also plays a major role in processing emotions. It is activated when our brain interprets a new situation as potentially dangerous. In response to threatening stimuli, the amygdala then releases the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline, which causes blood pressure to rise, muscles to tense and breathing to become faster and shallower.
So that the body can react quickly to danger and save energy, digestion and sexual functions are inhibited at this time. Furthermore, more blood is directed into the muscles and the blood sugar level is increased in order to optimize the oxygen uptake of the muscle fibers and the energy output. Our body is on alert.
What are the symptoms and consequences of stress?
The long-lasting high concentration of stress hormones, such as cortisol, in chronic stress has a negative effect on the thyroid gland (an important control point for hormones), the immune system, the digestive system and the sexual organs.
Chronic stress suppresses the functioning of the listed organs and body systems for longer than is healthy for the organism. This weakens, for example, the immune system so much that the susceptibility to infection or inflammation in the body increases. When the body cannot relieve chronic stress, it first reacts with muscle tension, which can lead to pain. Digestion is disturbed, resulting in stomach pain, heartburn, stress diarrhea, constipation or flatulence. Eating and sleeping behavior is also impaired and irritability, nervousness as well as impaired cognitive performance and memory disorders become noticeable. An overview of the long-term and short-term physical and psychological signs of stress is summarized in the following table:
How can you arm yourself against stress?
Stress as a natural part of life is impossible to completely banish from everyday life. But we can learn to deal with it better, i.e. more pleasantly for us. The relevant keyword in this context is: coping with stress.
coping with stress
Stress management can be used to describe all efforts a person makes to experience a situation that they find stressful as less uncomfortable. Coping with stress is not, per se, about using different methods or exercises that are supposed to provide relief. There is no general recipe for how to properly deal with stress. Instead, it is helpful to develop an individual coping strategy. This even makes it possible to use stress as a motor for personal development.
The following three concepts can offer support:
This is not about changing one's own personality or being, but rather training how to deal with the stressor in order to arrive at an alternative point of view. The aim is to find out why the stressful experience came about. The situation is analyzed and one's own behavior, in particular the assessment of the situation, is reflected upon. In this way, stress competencies can be developed that will help in the future to recognize potential stress triggers and to deal with them differently.
A reflective attitude increases your own resilience, as you can cautiously deal with new situations without being caught off guard and reacting too quickly - and this behavior may generate further stress.
To change the environment
This form of stress management is long-term and problem-oriented. It is important to find out how to reduce the points of contact with potential stressors in the future or how to prevent them completely. For example, if you have the experience that the bus is late every morning and you feel stressed as a result, you can take another public transport or bike to work. Changing the environment is of course only possible to a limited extent and is possible with problems that psychology calls “solvable”. In the case of “unsolvable” problems such as the death of a relative, the main focus is on accepting one's own feelings, which can be supported with relaxation exercises - as described under 3.
Reduce stress reactions
The best way to avoid chronic stress is to give our body regular breaks to break down stress hormones. An effective way to do this are relaxation exercises, the effectiveness of which has been proven by numerous studies and which are used in behavioral and mindfulness-oriented contexts.
Relaxation techniques help to stop the release of stress hormones and to lower the existing stress level (the concentration of the stress hormones cortisol / adrenaline already present in our body). These techniques include, for example, progressive muscle relaxation (PMR), in which muscles are tensed and relaxed in a concentrated manner, autogenic training and mindfulness / meditation. But not only relaxation exercises help the body to get the release and concentration of stress hormones under control. Since stress reactions actually serve to provide energy, we can also break down stress hormones again by specifically discharging this energy - e.g. by doing sport.
Changing yourself, changing the environment, reducing stress - these approaches to coping with stress should not be seen in isolation. Instead, the joint use of these components promotes the development of an individual stress resistance, i.e. one's own resistance to stress. The better this is trained, the more “immune” one becomes to stress and can endure stressful situations better and deal with pressure or hectic rush.
Can you prevent stress?
Numerous books have already been written and training courses have been developed for the prevention of stress, called stress prevention in psychology. These offers do not contain any general solutions, as each individual reacts differently to external stimuli and assesses stress. Nonetheless, certain rules and perspectives can help you deal with stressors more effectively.
Take time for yourself
As banal as it sounds: It always helps to take short moments of rest. Especially in stressful times, just a few minutes in which you consciously take a deep breath can work wonders. It is important that we actively create time windows for these moments, as we generally tend to be very active and busy in everyday life - especially when we are stressed.
Integrate relaxation exercises into your own everyday life
Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR), autogenic training, mindfulness, meditation and yoga are tried and tested methods that help prevent stress. You don't have to withdraw for several hours. There are also short exercises that can be used to effectively relax in five to ten minutes.
Do sports regularly
Sport is not only very good for our physical and mental health in general, but also specifically helps to reduce stress hormones and release happiness hormones such as dopamine. Having an exercise routine, i.e. exercising regularly and at least once a week, prevents chronic stress by repeatedly lowering the concentration of stress hormones.
Own claims and goals
Everyone has goals and certain demands on themselves. In pursuing and fulfilling these goals, however, it is important to consider how realistic and achievable they are. Often we put too much pressure on ourselves. This can keep the stress level permanently high regardless of external circumstances. In order to question goals and demands and thus prevent stress, it can be helpful to write them down once and, if necessary, to change them consciously.
HelloBetter Training: Fit under stress
At HelloBetter, we offer our Fit in Stress training, the effectiveness of which has been proven by six large-scale scientific studies. No other stress training worldwide has proven to be as effective as ours. The training is aimed at all people who experience acute or chronic stress and want to learn tested methods to better deal with stress. In appealing texts, videos and audios, proven psychological techniques are conveyed that serve to develop and consolidate individual stress management skills. The program can be flexibly integrated into your own everyday life so that you can access it independently at any time. You will also be accompanied by a trained psychologist or psychotherapist throughout the training. You will receive written feedback on your exercises and your progress after each lesson.
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