What is stress?
Stress is the body’s response to feeling threatened or under pressure by external or internal stimuli referred to as stressors. External stressors are sources of stress that are around us such as life experiences, traumas, or daily hassles such as traffic jams and work deadlines. Internal stressors are thoughts and feelings that cause you to feel unease such as negative thoughts, unrealistic expectations, uncertainties, low self-esteem and apprehensions. Internal stressor are often the most common sources of stress.
Stressors trigger a process of psychological and physiological changes in an attempt to neutralise the stressors. This process is known as stress response and is the body’s survival mechanism to perceived threatening situations enabling people to react quickly, ‘fight or flight’ i.e. fight the threat or flee to safety. In the short-term, stress responses may result in positive outcomes such as increased performance and motivation however, in excess stress can have the opposite effect.
Too much stress can affect our mood, make us feel anxious and irritable, and affect our self-esteem. Chronic stress is associated with cardiovascular disease[2, 3], adverse effects on blood pressure, muscular pain and fatigue, as well as contributing to mental health issues such as anxiety and depression[6, 7].
Coping responses to stress
Lazarus and Folkman suggest there are two types of coping responses: emotion focused and problem focused.
Emotion-focused coping focuses on regulating the emotional responses that arise from stressors such as anxiety, fear and anger and is useful for stressors that are deemed outside of your control e.g. dealing with the feeling of loss requires emotion-focused coping. Emotion-focused strategies include journaling, visualisation, mindfulness and cognitive reframing.
Problem-focused coping, focuses on the source of the stress, aiming to neutralise or eliminate the stressor directly. Problem-focused coping strategies are useful when the person can control the source of stress (e.g. exams, work-based stressors etc.) and include time management and problem solving.
Evidenced-based strategies to reduce stress
Everybody experiences stress, however experiencing a lot of stress over a long period of time can have a significant impact on overall health. Coping strategies are central to well-being and can help reduce stress. Evidenced-based strategies to help reduce stress include Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR), practising mindfulness, getting quality sleep, disconnecting or having ‘power down’ time, diaphragmatic breathing, meditation/guided imagery, exercise, spending time in nature, social connection and eating a balanced diet.
- Biggs, A., P. Brough, and S. Drummond, Lazarus and Folkman’s psychological stress and coping theory. The handbook of stress and health: A guide to research and practice, 2017: p. 351-364.
- Byrne, D.G. and G.A. Espnes, Occupational stress and cardiovascular disease. Stress and Health, 2008. 24(3): p. 231-238.
- Turner, A.I., et al., Psychological stress reactivity and future health and disease outcomes: A systematic review of prospective evidence. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 2020. 114: p. 104599.
- Gilbert-Ouimet, M., et al., Adverse effects of psychosocial work factors on blood pressure: systematic review of studies on demand-control-support and effort-reward imbalance models. Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment & Health, 2014. 40(2): p. 109-132.
- Putri, M., A. Rahmaniar S.P, and F. Djayanti, Risk factor analysis of work stress and muscle pain among high school teachers in Makassar. Enfermería Clínica, 2020. 30: p. 444-448.
- Debora, M.S.J., V. Baba, and S. Gomathi, Impact of stress on health. Narayana Nurs. J, 2018. 5: p. 11-14.
- Kiecolt-Glaser, J.K., et al., Stress reactivity: what pushes us higher, faster, and longer—and why it matters. Current directions in psychological science, 2020. 29(5): p. 492-498.
- Lazarus, R.S. and S. Folkman, Stress, appraisal, and coping. 1984: Springer publishing company.
- Varvogli, L. and C. Darviri, Stress management techniques: Evidence-based procedures that reduce stress and promote health. Health science journal, 2011. 5(2): p. 74.