Mental health – managing stress

In life, stress can never be avoided, but that doesn't mean it should be ignored. Stress, if untreated, can potentially cause physical and mental health issues. In many cases, stress can actually be managed. With plenty of patience and proper strategies, one can reduce all the different forms of stress.

What is stress?

Stress is the reaction our body experiences during any change that requires adjustment. The body reacts physically, mentally and emotionally to these changes. One can experience stress from the body, environment, and in the mind. Even positive life changes can at times cause stress.

Factors that can trigger stress

Stress has many different triggers. According to many surveys, work stress is right on top of that list. Many employees say that work is the biggest source of stress in their lives.

Work-related stress triggers include

- Long work hours
- Being unhappy in the job
- Too much responsibility (work overload)
- Dangerous work conditions
- Poor advancement possibilities
- Risk of termination
- Discrimination and harassment
- Unclear work expectations and more

Life stresses can also cause a huge impact. Here are some examples:

- Newly diagnosed illness
- Living with chronic illness or injury
- Emotional issues (depression, anxiety, anger, grief, guilt and more)
- Taking care of an elderly or sick family member
- Death of a loved one
- Divorce or break-up
- Job loss
- Financial distress and more

At times, stress can occur just by worrying unnecessarily about things too much. This kind of stress normally comes from within, rather than being caused by external factors. All of these factors can lead to stress, according to webmd.com:

- Fear and uncertainty.
Some news, can cause the feeling of stress. This is especially because some people feel that they have no control over those events. And even though disasters are typically very rare events, their vivid coverage by the media can make them seem as if they are more likely to occur. Fears can also occur in the form of being worried that you may not be able to finish a project at work or do not have enough money to pay your bills this month.

- Attitudes and perceptions.
How one views the world or a particular situation can determine whether it causes stress. For example, if one gets into a car accident and you take the attitude, "It's OK, my insurance company will cover it," you'll be far less stressed than if you think, "My car is wrecked! It will be in the workshop forever and I won’t have transport!" Similarly, people who feel like they're doing a good job at work will be less stressed or worried that they are incompetent.

- Unrealistic expectations.
No one is perfect! If you expect to do everything right all the time, you're destined to feel pressured when things don’t go as planned.

- Change.
Any major life change can be stressful to many people. Even a happy event like a wedding or a job promotion can cause anxiety. More unpleasant events, such as a divorce, major financial setback or death in the family can be significant sources of stress.

- Covid-19.
How a person responds to stress during the COVID-19 pandemic can depend on the following factors:

  • The individual’s background
  • Social support 
  • Financial situation
  • Health and emotional background
  • The community you live in and many other factors

The changes that can happen due to the pandemic and the ways it is being contained can have a huge impact on many people.

In general, stress level differs according to your personality and how you respond to situations. Some people just let everything roll off their backs. To them, any form of stress trigger is just a minor hurdle that can be overcome. Others literally worry themselves sick.

How does stress affect health?

The human body has been designed to experience stress and react to it accordingly. Positive stress keeps us alert, motivated and ready to avoid danger. In turn, stress can become negative when a person faces continuous challenges. The body's autonomic nervous system has a built-in stress response that causes psychological changes to allow the body to combat stressful situations. This is known as the "fight or flight response". It gets activated in times of emergency. However, prolonged periods of stress can cause the response to be chronically activated and can physically and emotionally affect the body.

Continuous stress can lead to a condition called “distress”. Distress can disturb the body's internal balance, leading to physical symptoms such as headaches, abdominal discomfort, high blood pressure, chest pain, sexual dysfunction and more. Distress can also cause emotional issues. They include depression, panic attacks and other forms of anxiety. Studies have shown that stress can worsen certain symptoms or diseases. Stress has been linked to some of the leading causes of death: cirrhosis of the liver, cancer, heart disease, accidents and suicides.

Stress can also be the trigger for people to engage in the compulsive use of substances and harmful activities to try to relieve condition. They include food, alcohol, tobacco, drugs, gambling, compulsive sex and other vices. These activities and substances tend to keep the body in a stressed state and causes more problems rather than relieving the stress.

The warning signs of stress

Chronic stress can greatly affect the body's natural defences, leading to a variety of symptoms, which may include the following:

- Indigestion or reflux
- Increase or loss of appetite causing weight issues
- Muscular tension in the neck, face or shoulders
- Insomnia
- Gut problems
- General aches and pains
- Teeth grinding
- Palpitations
- General lethargy
- Sexual dysfunction

Tips for reducing stress

People can learn to manage stress and lead happier, healthier lives. You may find the following tips useful:

- Keep a positive attitude
- Accept that some things are out of our control
- Practice relaxation techniques like meditation or yoga
- Exercise regularly so that your body can fight stress
- Eat healthy and well-balanced meals
- Manage your time effectively
- Make time for hobbies and leisure
- Get enough rest and sleep
- Do not use alcohol or drugs as a stress reduction vehicle
- Seek out social support and treatment with a psychologist or other mental health professional trained in stress management

Conclusion

Stress can really mess up one’s emotional balance and physical condition. It narrows the ability to focus, think clearly, function optimally and have a good quality of life. Effective stress management can help break that burdensome chain that it brings into your life, so that you can be happier and healthier and function at your optimum. The ultimate aim is a well-balanced life, with time for work and pleasure plus the resilience to hold up under pressure to meet challenges head on.


Author: Ezree Ebrahim, Head Business Development (Healthcare), Absolute Health Group. For Further information, please contact: ezree.ebrahim@akesisoncology.com

Series Editor: Christopher F. Bruton, Executive Director, Dataconsult Ltd, chris@dataconsult.co.th. Dataconsult’s Thailand Regional Forum provides seminars and extensive documentation to update business on future trends in Thailand and in the Mekong Region.