Biological or physiological stress is the response of an organism to an environmental condition. In general, stress is our body’s way of reacting to something challenging. Some kind of stresses get us going and are healthy for us. According to many people, life without any stress would become dull and may make everything pretty pointless. However, when stresses weaken both our physical and mental health, they are detrimental. Before we go in detail, it’s important to understand the difference between stress and stressor.
Stress is the feeling that we experience when under pressure while stressor is a stimulus or agent that triggers stress. Simply put, stressors are different kinds of environmental things that we respond to. Examples of stressors include unpleasant people, noises, going out on a date, appearing for an exam or job interview, or even a speeding car. Usually, the more the stressors are, the more we feel stressed. The following things may happen when we feel stressed:
- Breathing becomes quicker than normal
- Blood pressure rises
- Heart rate rises
- Digestive system slows down
- Muscles become strained
- Immune system goes down
- Sleep disturbance (heightened condition of alertness)
Most people have differing interpretations about stress and what triggers it. Some of them concentrate on what occurs to them such as getting a promotion or having an accident, while some others focus more on the occurrence itself. In reality, our thoughts about a situation matter the most when we find ourselves in it. In this post, we’ve jotted down some key cognitive exercises that would help you to lower stress and improve your mood.
Stress observed in children
Adults often tend to see the world of children as carefree and happy. Though children don’t have bills to pay or jobs to keep, they’ve anxieties and fears and can make them feel stressed to some extent. It’s crucial to identify stress in kids and help them to learn healthy coping strategies. The strategies often stay with the children up to their adulthood. Here’s a list of common types of stresses observed in children.
- Complaining of stomachaches or headaches
- Being distrustful
- Loss of appetite
- Feeling unloved
- Tending to urinate frequently
- Having trouble with sleeping
- Not caring about friendship or school
- Having worries about the future
- Acting withdrawn
- Low self-esteem
Here’s a list of the most common sources of stress in children.
- Disturbed fundamental security system such as separation from parents or divorced parents
- Extreme pressure caused by studies or extracurricular activities
- Death or illness of closed ones
- Parent’s internal problems
- Different kinds of world news such as war, terrorism, natural disasters etc
Stress observed in working professionals
Stress has become one of the leading issues in today’s working professionals’ lives. Short-term stress is quite natural and it passes away once the reason like an important meeting or dealing with tight deadlines is eliminated. But working professionals often become the victims of long-term stress due to various stressful conditions.
In today’s competitive work landscape, workplace environments are becoming more challenging that include handling multiple tasks, non-cooperative superiors and colleagues, low work satisfaction and extended working hours, all of which can trigger stress. Young professionals, who are new to competitive workplaces, often fail to deal with stress mainly due to their lack of understanding of the types of stresses. Here’s a list of most common types of stresses observed in working professionals.
- Improper work management
- Failing to identify core skills
- Being negative
Stress observed in older adults
As we age, the defense mechanisms of our immune system start to become impaired and so does the ability to respond efficiently to different kind of environmental factors that trigger stress. Chronic stress is commonly believed to be associated with accelerated biologic aging and contributes toward immune system malfunction. This malfunction lowers the immune response to pneumococcal and influenza vaccine and may lead to degenerative diseases. In a nutshell, for older adults, stress has the ability to be especially overwhelming. Some of the common sources of stress in seniors are:
- Loss of spouse or closed ones
- Sense of isolation
- Inability to complete everyday tasks due to medical or physical limitations
Here’re the most common types of stresses found in seniors.
- Changed eating habits like loss of appetite or over-eating
- Memory issues
- Lack of concentration
- Mood swings such as general sadness, depression or increased irritability
- Refusing to participate in their favorite activities
- Refusing to socialize
- Changed sleeping patterns
- Body pains and aches
- Increased frequency of being ill
- Feeling fatigued frequently
- Substantial change in weight
Cognitive training (also called neurobics or brain training) is based upon the hypothesis that cognitive capacities can be improved or maintained by exercising the brain. Cognitive reserve is the ability of a person to deal with different types of cognitive requirements of life that include comprehending relationships, assimilating information and developing reasonable plans and conclusions.
The hypothesis on cognitive training suggest that certain activities, when done regularly, may aid in improving or maintaining cognitive reserve. Until a couple of years ago, experts believed that our brain is similar to a sealed black box and we’re stuck with whatever the nature has provided us with birth. However, it has been proved now that our brains can continue adapting and developing different new abilities throughout our lifetime. This ability is called neuroplasticity and it’s the fundamental science behind cognitive training.
Two key types of cognitive training are applied by specialists – compensatory and restorative. The former type includes training strategies such as visualizing or categorizing information to be remembered while the latter emphasizes on strengthening certain cognitive domains to enhance functional performance.
Proper cognitive exercises are believed to improve the brain’s ability to reorganize and change itself throughout the life – dealing with everything from basic learning disorders to inability to wink. Here, we’ve outlined a detailed list of cognitive exercises that would help you to relieve stress and improve your mood when you’re going through a cognitive distortion.
- Calm yourself: If you’re stressed or upset by some kind of thoughts that you want to vent out, you may find it difficult to concentrate on anything. Try deep breathing or meditation to calm yourself down.
- Identify your situation: Thoroughly identify the situation that made your mood negative and write that down.
- Recognize negative thoughts: According to cognitive-behavioral therapists, it’s crucial to recognize negative and irrational thinking to deal with stress and mood distortion. It’s advisable that you should write down your thoughts and the subsequent feelings five times (at the minimum) a day.
- Identify automatic thoughts: Now, write down the automatic thoughts or the natural reactions you experienced during stress or mood distortion. These, for instance, may include
- I’ve missed out on these things
- My analysis skills aren’t adequately good
- S/he is highly arrogant and rude
- Nobody likes me
- My argument is positive
- This’ll undermine my future
- Behaviorally verifying your thoughts: For instance, if you think that you don’t have any right to take breaks between your tasks, you should go on following your normal routine and rate your productivity at the end of each day for a week. In the second week, you can take five minutes break after every one hour and rate your productivity. Then compare the ratings of those two weeks.
- Changing your thoughts: Once you’ve identified the thoughts, it’s time to change them. According to specialists, people who consider stress as a challenge as well as an opportunity are able to be back to normal situation more quickly compared to the people who let stress defeat them by considering it as overpowering. In case you think that there’s nothing that can change the stressful condition you’re experiencing, you’re less likely to recover fast.
- Analyze your mood: Jot down the moods you experienced when feeling stressed. It’s important to note that moods are our fundamental feelings and they aren’t thoughts about a situation.
- Find supportive evidence: Find some evidences that objectively advocate your automatic thoughts.
- Identify balanced and fair thoughts: It’s important to look at both sides of a situation. By now, you should have adequate information required to take a balanced and fair view of the situation that causes stress. If you still feel hesitant, you can discuss your situation with family and friends.
- Improving problem-solving skills: When you’re under stress, instead of procrastinating and wallowing in bed, you should practice stress-reducing and problem-solving techniques. For instance, if you’re feeling stressed due to a big project with tight deadlines at work, you should list small things that are required to do to complete the project and start finishing those small tasks – one at a time.
- Mindfulness meditation: Mindfulness meditation includes selecting something to focus your attention on like your breathing. Set a number of minutes and concentrate on experiencing the feelings of your breathing, which is opposite to thinking about your breathing. It’s an excellent method to train yourself to become aware when you’re lost in thoughts.
- Self-compassion: Self-compassion includes talking to yourself softly whenever you’re experiencing stress. Over time, if you become able to emphasize on self-compassion rather than self-criticism, your thoughts will automatically change.
- Practice noticing when having a cognitive disorder: When you’re experiencing a cognitive distortion, choose a single type of distortion to focus on. For instance, you may recognize that you’re becoming prone to various negative predictions. For a couple of days, just keep noticing how many times you’re making negative predictions such as expecting not to enjoy at a party, expecting that your superior won’t like your idea, expecting that you would feel highly tired to exercise etc. Now ask yourself the possible outcomes of those negative predictions.
- Monitor your current mood: Now, you should have a clearer idea about how to handle a situation that triggers stress and you are most likely to identify that your mood has improved. Just write down the way you feel.
The inevitability of stress can only be managed by identifying the stressors and working to handle them effectively. Remember that the implications of stress may be far reaching and thus, stress should never be overlooked. The above mentioned cognitive restructuring exercises work quite effectively when it comes to dealing with stress and these are applicable for people from every walk of life.
Though stress is one of the most common and almost inevitable elements of modern life, it doesn’t mean considering it some kind of a burden that one has to shoulder all alone. With the help of these exercises, one can easily combat stress and the negative effects it brings along. Spend some time to identify the kind of burdens you face. Make plans in accordance with your lifestyle, which are not only enjoyable and fun but can reduce the pressures caused by stress as well.
By doing so, the overall quality of your life can easily get a boost, thus helping you march confidently toward a great future. Stress management helps you to change or remove the origin of stress, modify your way of viewing a stressful event, reduce the impact of stress and learn alternative ways of dealing with it. To help you further, you can read self-help books, or enroll yourself in a stress management course. You may even consider seeing a psychotherapist or counselor for therapy sessions or personal development if you find it too tough to manage stress on your own.
Joey Karam, Content Strategist for Power of Calm. Being active in the field of Human psychology & stress management, he loves to write about ‘Mental health & Self-Improvement’. When he is not in office you can find him hiking through trails.