Understanding & Recognizing Stress

By Donna M. White, LMHC, CACP

Understanding & Recognizing StressEveryone has experienced stress. We all have demands and we all respond to those demands differently. How we respond to those demands determine our stress level.

Life is full of stress. Sometimes it comes and goes and sometimes it lingers. Sometimes our stressors are small, and sometimes they are big. Stress may come from within or come from an outside source. There are different types and causes of stress. Understanding stress is an important part of stress management.

Stress management gives us the opportunity to take a step back and reset. We don’t want to wait until our bodies give us signals that we are dealing with too much stress. We want to be able to recognize stress as it comes and deal with it effectively.

There are two main types of stress — acute stress and chronic stress.

Acute stress is the body’s immediate reaction to a perceived threat. This is often referred to as the fight-or-flight response. This type of stress isn’t always bad. It can propel you to move away from danger, or in some cases even give you energy. Generally, acute stress does not cause significant problems. When acute stress occurs frequently or on a regular basis it can trigger anxiety, panic attacks, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other health-related issues.

Chronic stress occurs when there are several acute stressors that don’t go away. The body does not have a fight-or-flight response to this type of stress. As a matter of fact, you may not even recognize this type of stress at all. It typically builds up over time and the effects may be more problematic and cause longer-lasting issues.

One of the best ways to identify stressors is to keep a “stress journal.” As you recognize feelings of frustration, anxiety, overwhelm, or any other negative feelings, write down the situation or challenge. You may even want to rate the intensity on a scale of 1-10. By writing down your stressors, you may identify some patterns and triggers. Take time to recognize if the stress feels temporary or if it lingers throughout the day or longer. Observe if you are triggered by small things or larger issues. Lastly, identify if they are internal or external stressors.

Most of our internal stressors come from our own thoughts and beliefs. We have the ability to control these, but sometimes we become plagued by worry, anxiety, uncertainty, fears, and other forms of negativity. Identify if this is true for you.

External stressors are things that happen to us that we often cannot control. These are unpredictable events such as new deadlines or unexpected financial issues. These types of stressors can also include major life changes — positive or negative. These can include a promotion, the birth or adoption of a child, or unexpected health issues or death of a loved one.

You may wish to research some online stress tests. There are several versions that determine stress levels with a high degree of accuracy.

Once you have identified your triggers, you can start thinking of ways to manage your stress. You may wish to engage in relaxation, meditation, mindfulness exercises, or other stress management techniques. It is important to remember stress management techniques are often not an immediate cure. These techniques sometimes need to be practiced and used over time to be effective.

Recognizing stress is just the first step toward managing it. You may not be able to eliminate it because life happens, but you can learn to cope better. If you find that your stress is chronic and you do not feel you are able to cope or you begin recognizing mental or physical symptoms that indicate you are under too much stress, consult with a physician or therapist.

 

APA Reference
White, D. (2013). Understanding & Recognizing Stress. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 24, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/understanding-recognizing-stress/00015730
Scientifically Reviewed
    Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 14 Mar 2013
    Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.