Stress Management: Causes, Symptoms, and Stress treatment

Stress is an inevitable part of life that can manifest both physically and emotionally. Learning healthy stress management strategies is crucial for maintaining well-being. Today we will cover a comprehensive guide on the symptoms, types, and causes of stress, as well as proven treatment methods to equip individuals with actionable techniques for improving day-to-day stress levels.

What is Stress?

What is Stress - stress definition - stress types

The American Psychological Association (APA) defines psychological stress as the feeling experienced when an individual perceives that the “demands exceed the personal and social resources the individual can mobilize.” In other words, when faced with a challenge, stress surfaces in reaction to a perceived inability to meet pressures and obligations.

Stress can be experienced in both positive and negative forms. Positive stress, sometimes referred to as eustress, often manifests as motivation. This type of stress can enhance focus and performance. Negative stress, often referred to as distress, occurs in excess and with prolonged activation. This type of stress can lead to chronic conditions if not properly managed. While stress lives on a spectrum, this guide primarily focuses on techniques for alleviating negative stress and achieving balance.

Symptoms of Stress

Stress affects individuals on multiple levels, often simultaneously. Understanding the common physical, emotional, and behavioral symptoms of stress provides critical awareness for recognizing, managing, and minimizing occurrences.

Physical Symptoms

  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Muscle tension
  • Stomach issues
  • Change in appetite
  • Weight loss or gain

Emotional & Mental Health Symptoms

  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Lack of motivation
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Anger
  • Irritability
  • Sadness
  • Lack of focus

Behavioral Symptoms

  • Changes in sleep
  • Drug, alcohol, or substance misuse
  • Social withdrawal
  • Changes in sexual desire

While these represent common symptoms of stress, they can also coincide with other health conditions. Consult a healthcare professional for any prolonged or severe symptoms. Tracking daily stress levels alongside symptoms can also help identify triggers.

Types of Stress

According to leading experts, including the APA and the American Institute of Stress, there are three main types of stress: Acute, Episodic Acute, and Chronic.

Acute Stress

Acute stress is the most prevalent type of stress, often the result of recent or short-term triggers. While acute stress can feel intense, symptoms typically pass without causing major physical or psychological damage.

Episodic Acute Stress

Individuals experiencing episodic acute stress endure acute symptoms more frequently, often feeling as though they are in a constant state of chaos and crisis. Triggers are also common issues that persist without resolution, leading to prolonged periods of acute stress symptoms.

Chronic Stress

Chronic stress is ongoing and consistently felt. Without proper management over time, chronic stress can lead to severe impacts on physical and mental health. Addressing root causes and learning stress management techniques for this type of stress is critical.

Common Causes of Stress

Understanding what tends to trigger stress symptoms can provide invaluable perspective and control in learning how to manage responses. While stressors are diverse among demographics, there are underlying similarities.

The 10 Most Common Causes Include:

  1. Work pressure – Caused by a toxic environment, intense workload, tight deadlines, etc.
  2. Life events – Such as bereavement, divorce, moving, major life changes.
  3. COVID-19 – From health anxiety, lack of control, isolation, and uncertainty.
  4. Social media and technology – Overexposure, pressure to compare lives.
  5. Finances & economy – Job loss, income changes, lack of financial control, etc.
  6. Health concerns – Chronic conditions, acute diagnoses, pain.
  7. Environment – Loud noise pollution, lack of nature.
  8. Unrealistic expectations – Of self or from others, perfectionism.
  9. Poor work-life balance – No separation between professional and personal.
  10. Poor nutrition & lack of sleep – Nutritional imbalances and sleep issues.

While this covers the broad range of common stressors, there are also underlying risk factors that can increase susceptibility. These include but aren’t limited to genetics, personality and behavior type, poor stress-coping ability, and a lack of a strong social support system.

Workplace & Career Stress

With work and career topping the list of causes of stress for American adults, managing stressors in these environments is particularly important.

The most prevalent workplace stress contributors include:

  • Low salaries
  • Long hours
  • Heavy workloads
  • Intense pressure to avoid mistakes
  • Lack of autonomy
  • Difficult commutes
  • Unsupportive leadership
  • Negative work culture
  • Unclear job expectations
  • Job insecurity
  • Toxic co-workers or environment
  • Minimal recognition

Implementing workplace wellness programs, emphasizing mental health and work-life balance, enabling remote work flexibility, and normalizing stress can proactively combat career-related stress.

Stress Management Techniques and Treatment

Managing stress is an active, ongoing process requiring self-discipline and commitment to self-care techniques. From proactive lifestyle changes and boundaries to therapy, medication, and more – developing stress management skills alleviates symptoms.

MedicationUseDosage for MalesDosage for Females
SSRIs (Prozac, Zoloft, Lexapro)Treat anxiety and depression10-20 mg per day to start10 mg per day to start
SNRIs (Effexor, Cymbalta)Treat anxiety and nerve pain75 mg per day to start30 mg per day to start
Benzodiazepines (Xanax, Klonopin)Relieve anxiety and panic attacks0.25-0.5 mg 2-3 times per day0.25 mg 2 times per day
Buspirone (Buspar)Relieve Anxiety15 mg per day to start10 mg per day to start
Beta blockers (Inderal)Control heart rate and blood pressure10 mg per day to start10 mg per day to start

Notes:

  • Dosages may be increased gradually as needed and tolerated
  • Women generally need lower doses due to different metabolism
  • Appropriate dosage depends on individual factors
  • Work closely with a medical provider for recommendations

Healthy Lifestyle & Routines

Implementing healthy daily routines establishes stability while reducing stress vulnerability. Basic lifestyle stress management techniques include:

  • Adequate sleep
  • Regular exercise
  • Healthy, balanced nutrition
  • Hydration
  • Deep breathing
  • Time outdoors & with nature
  • Routines & planning
  • Work-life balance
  • Reframing negative self-talk

Professional Support

Seeking professional treatment provides authoritative support and expert resources for healthy stress management.

  • Talk therapy with a licensed therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist to identify triggers.
  • Medication from a psychiatrist to alleviate symptoms.
  • Wellness or lifestyle coaching for routines.
  • Occupational therapy for workplace tools.
  • Support groups to reduce isolation.

Holistic Health Approaches

Evidence-based, holistic health practices also cultivate stress relief.

  • Yoga
  • Meditation
  • Acupuncture
  • Massage
  • Aromatherapy

Other Stress Management Recommendations

Additional proven stress management techniques include:

  • Time-blocking to prevent overextension.
  • Task automation and delegation at home & work.
  • Daily to-do list prioritization for tangible plans.
  • Mantras, affirmations, mindfulness, and motivation apps, videos, and resources.
  • Gratitude and happiness journaling to reframe perspectives.
  • Hobbies, leisure activities, and creative outlets.
  • Practicing saying “no” to maintain healthy boundaries.

Seeking Specialized Treatment for Chronic Stress

Left untreated, chronic stress can result in long-term physical, emotional, and psychological health issues. Seeking specialized care is vital for chronic stress treatment.

In addition to the techniques, resources, and support mentioned above, recommended chronic stress interventions include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) to identify thought patterns.
  • Intensive treatment programs such as intensive outpatient programs (IOP) or partial hospitalization programs (PHP).
  • Inpatient hospitalization for stabilization, symptom management, and recovery immersion.
  • Potential anti-anxiety or antidepressant medications.
  • Treatment is specifically tailored for individual symptoms and co-occurring disorders.

Achieving Balance through Stress Awareness

Stress is complex, as are individual responses. There is no universal standard or quick solution for managing stress levels. Assessing root causes, recognizing early warning signs, learning healthy coping mechanisms that resonate, and seeking professional support are crucial for taking control. Stress can be pervasive, but it does not need to feel insurmountable. Recognize, communicate, and manage symptoms with compassionate determination for sustainable wellness.

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