Stress is often defined as a normal physical response to events that make you feel threatened or upset the balance of things in some way. The body has a way of protecting you in these times; this is known as the fight-or-flight, or stress, response.

Stress is not always harmful. Good stress allows you to stay alert and focused. For example, in a life-threatening situation, the stress response ultimately can have life-saving results. It can also help you in challenging situations, such as completing work tasks. However, there is also bad stress. Bad stress can cause damage to your overall well-being.

Many people often do not realize they are under stress until it has begun to consume them. It is important to recognize stress before it gets out of control. Stress can negatively affect your mental and emotional health and create interpersonal and relationship issues. It also can cause and exacerbate health issues such as: physical pain, skin rashes, digestive issues, sleep problems, depression/anxiety, heart problems, obesity, and autoimmune disorders.

How much stress is too much varies among individuals. Some people have a very high stress tolerance and may even enjoy stress to a certain extent; others may have a very low tolerance.

It is important to be able to recognize the causes of stress. If you are able to identify the causes, you can begin to find ways to successfully manage your stressors.

Causes of stress can be broken down into four main categories: general, life, work and internal.

General Stress

General stressors include fear and uncertainty. Fear, whether real or perceived, results in stress.

Uncertainty also produces stress. When we cannot predict an outcome we can feel a lack of control, which can produce stress.

Life Stress

Life stressors can include death of a family member or friend, injury, illness, new additions to the family, crime, abuse, familial changes such as marriage or divorce, sexual problems, interpersonal problems, physical changes, relocation, financial problems, environmental changes, or changes in responsibilities.

Work Stress

Work stressors include job demands, lack of support, relationships with co-workers and supervisors, poor communication, lack of feedback, criticism, lack of clarity, changes in organizational structure, promotion/demotion, long hours, or overall job dissatisfaction.

Internal Stress

Internal stressors are those we create. The way we perceive and view situations often can be the cause of stress. Some examples include negative self-talk, unrealistic expectations, wanting always to be in control, and seeking perfection.

Dealing with Your Stress

Once you have identified your sources of stress, you can work to begin to manage your stress effectively. Stress varies with the individual; effective ways to reduce it do also. Explore your options.

There are a variety of healthy ways to deal with stress. It often is helpful to look at each stressful situation independently and determine what can be changed — the situation or your attitude about it. Some individuals also choose healthy alternatives such as exercise, meditation, breathing techniques, and adopting an overall healthier lifestyle. Again, find what works for you.

If you are trying to cope with stress, or find yourself coping in unhealthy ways, you may benefit from talking with a close friend or family member. If your stress seems to be controlling you more than you are able to control it, you may want to seek out a therapist to guide you in the process. By identifying the source of stress in your life and identifying healthy ways to deal with it, you can control your stress. Find something that works for you and make it a part of your regular schedule. By doing so, you will be on the road to a life of less stress and overall wellbeing.