Stress management is an ongoing process involving the identification of stress triggers, learning the coinciding stress symptoms that occur, and developing healthy coping skills to manage these symptoms. In other words, stress management involves learning the body’s reaction to stress and utilizing healthy coping skills to provide relief and manage the stress symptoms before exhaustion sets in.
Physiological Response to Stress
When experiencing a stressful situation, the body is thrown into high gear in preparation to deal with the stressor. The fight-or-flight response is a common term used to explain this process of physiological arousal. The response is triggered by the sympathetic nervous system which stimulates stress hormones that prepare the body for action.
There are three main stages in the body’s response to stress; these are alarm, resistance, and exhaustion. The alarm stage is being experienced during the fight-or-flight response as the nervous system becomes engaged in preparation for managing the stressor. The alarm stage then leads to the resistance stage where a person begins to adjust and deal with the stressor, and lastly if one is unable to cope or manage the recurring or persistent stress, exhaustion sets in and the individual become overwhelmed.
There are numerous health implications from experiencing repeated stress and the accompanying exhaustion. For this reason, learning to identify and build resistance to stress is vitally important. A starting point for dealing with stress is to recognize in what form it appears. There are typically certain stress symptoms that are common amongst people that can be focused on in preparation for managing stress.
Understanding Stress Symptoms
Recognizing stress symptoms provides the means to deal with the stress early and effectively before exhaustion sets in. Stress symptoms vary from person to person and can be in different domains of life. For instance, exhaustion symptoms can be anywhere from emotional, physical, mental, relational or spiritual.
People may experience fatigue or a headache or become irritable and easily frustrated. Conflict can start to develop in relationships, or the feeling of emptiness and loss of meaning can ensue. Stress is reflected in many ways, and it is important to learn how to read bodily signs for these early signals of distress.
Many life events produce stress, so it is also important to consider the context and circumstances of stress. What situations cause the most stress and what feelings are produced by these situations? What is it specifically about these situations that are triggering stress? Is it the place, the person, the activity, or a mix of all three?
Even positive experiences can be stressful, such as planning a wedding or elaborate holiday gathering. These discrete stressors are important to recognize and deal with to prevent the build-up of unnecessary stress that leads to exhaustion.
Coping with Stress
Coping skills provide a means to deal with ongoing difficulties and make it possible to resiliently move forward in life. Learning to match coping skills with the apparent symptoms can provide a way to better manage stress.
If physical stress symptoms are present the use of exercise or deep breathing can be helpful. If mental and emotional symptoms are encountered getting support through talking or meditating could be ideal. Learning how to relax the body or relax the mind according to the symptoms being experienced provides a good basis for applying coping skills. Also, learning what coping skills work best for each or what coping skills are accessible depending on our limitations can provide a reasonable counter to troubling stress symptoms.
Coping strategies are not static, and people may need to adapt and alter what strategy is used according to the resources available. The important thing is that coping skills are healthy and do not exacerbate the problem; such as turning to drugs and alcohol for a quick fix to cope with stress.
It is important to note that stress can be beneficial and is essential for growth. Stress can provide the motivation and energy to follow through on important tasks, and as long as people know how to manage stress and work with it effectively, setbacks and frustration can be dealt with more productively.