The phone rings, you have to settle a dispute between your kids, and all this while the milk in the pot is threatening to boil over. You are needed at all corners and ends, so stress can arise. But this is only acute stress, which does not harm your health, but rather benefits it. However, if your stress level is constantly high, it is the precursor to chronic stress, which can lead to serious and even life-threatening health problems.
What is stress?
From a medical point of view, stress is a natural physical reaction to situations in which the organism has to increase its performance to a high level in the short term. This does not yet have any health-threatening effects. However, prolonged stress affects the immune system to such an extent that the risk of cardiovascular diseases and psychological disorders increases enormously. In this case, it is advisable to avoid stress triggers such as high workloads, relationship problems or money worries. In the case of permanent stress, it is important to get to the bottom of these causes and fight them before they make you ill.
Typical stress symptoms
Natural stress reactions such as feelings of anxiety and pressure already occurred in Stone Age people, for example in encounters with wild animals. The body puts itself on a kind of alert, preparing for fight or flight. Stress reactions are a genetically determined program that releases energies and allows us to make quick decisions. So when they occur in the short term, they are nothing to worry about.
In today’s world, you rarely have to prepare for fight or flight, but you are increasingly exposed to chronic stress. High stress levels in your professional or private life pose a threat to you. It varies from person to person when a burden is perceived as stress or when it is still bearable. But at some point, everyone reaches the point where the body can no longer cope with the constant overload, and the following stress symptoms develop:
- Increased pulse
- Tension in the neck, back and shoulder area
- headache and backache
- inner restlessness
- concentration problems
- high irritability
- depressive moods
- sleep disturbances
Stress makes you ill
Doctors and psychologists constantly point out that permanent stress can trigger serious physical and mental illnesses. For this reason it is especially important to find your stress triggers in time and to find solutions to fight them or to learn to deal with them. The following physical illnesses can be stress-related:
- heart attack and stroke
- stomach and intestinal problems such as stomach ulcers or gastritis
- digestive problems such as diarrhea or constipation
- weakened immune system
- sleep disturbances
- headaches up to migraine
- viral diseases like shingles
- skin diseases such as neurodermatitis or psoriasis
- metabolic diseases such as hyperthyroidism or diabetes
Psychological diseases, which are favored by stress:
- anxiety disorders
- nervousness, restlessness
- concentration disorders
- ADS and ADHD
What are the stress triggers?
There are a number of situations that can trigger stress in you. For example, a sudden loud noise such as an ambulance turning on its siren right in front of you. Aggressive behavior by others and a change in your life can also be stress triggers. Joyful events like a promotion or a new life partner are also factors that can lead to stress, even if they are positive.
The following life situations are among the most common causes of stress:
1. Financial worries
An American study found that financial problems are the main cause of stress among US Americans. Here in Germany, too, more and more people are getting deeper and deeper into debt, for example due to uncontrolled purchases in online stores (see also my article Tips against Financial Stress). In addition, there are often high apartment rents and energy costs. If you can’t sleep at night because you don’t know if you will be able to pay the rent next month, this has an impact on your well-being and health. You feel listless and unfocused, you get anxiety, which can lead to depression. According to the American study, young adults and parents are most affected by financial worries as stress triggers.
2. High demands at work
The phone in the office is ringing off the hook, the display shows a multitude of unprocessed e-mails, and then the boss demands that you prepare a meeting in the shortest possible time. This can lead to stress at the workplace.
High workloads are one of the top stress triggers and the main cause of burnout. Many people are exposed to high work demands, often even take work home with them and are constantly available even in their free time. There is hardly any time left for family, friends and hobbies. Those affected can hardly switch off and sleep badly at night because their thoughts are already back on the job.
Women in particular often suffer from the double burden of children and job. The consequences are often severe mental and physical illnesses.
3. Relationship problems
Often it’s just little things like an open toothpaste tube or pieces of clothing lying around that can cause an argument between you and your partner. But while the annoyance about the small quirks of your partner quickly fades away, major relationship problems such as constant infidelity or constant quarrels about money or the upbringing of children are among the most common stress triggers. Depression, fear of loss and considerable physical complaints are the consequences. You and your partner should pull the emergency brake and seek partnership counseling or, if nothing helps, perhaps even consider a separation.
4. Care of relatives
If your parents, your partner or your children are seriously ill, you certainly don’t want to put them in a home, but would rather take care of your loved ones yourself. However, caring for relatives is not child’s play, but is physically and psychologically very demanding and is therefore also one of the most common stress triggers.
In the fight against permanent stress, you must first recognize your personal stress triggers. Are you taking on too much at work? Is your relationship really still that happy? If necessary, you can also seek advice from your family doctor or a psychologist. Here are some tips for dealing with stress.
1. Set priorities
Good time management can help you avoid stressful situations. Make a priority list of what needs to be done first and what tasks can wait, and build in fixed break times. Don’t focus on fixed times when the tasks should be done, because that will cause new stress. Your boss will not tear your head off if you need a few minutes longer for a task. Good work just takes time.
Your free time belongs to you and not to the company. You don’t have to be available all the time on vacations and weekends, tasks you haven’t done by Friday can wait until Monday. Your free time should be used to relax and free your body and mind. That is why it is important to dedicate your free days to a hobby or to do something with your friends.
3. Eliminate financial bottlenecks
Stress is often triggered by financial worries. Set up a financial plan in which you compare income and expenses and calculate exactly how much money is left at the end of the month for extras such as clothes, eating out or a new cell phone. If you are already in debt, it is highly advisable to seek debt counseling to get you out of the financial hole.
4. Find solutions for relationship problems
If problems with your partner are the reason for prolonged stress, you should definitely sit down together and try to find a solution. If you can’t do it on your own, going to a relationship counselor is inevitable to find out if the emotions are still strong enough for a future together or if a separation is the best solution.
5. Relaxation techniques
Relaxation techniques such as yoga, autogenic training or simply taking a soothing bath in calming substances like lavender will help you deal with stressful situations better. You will become more balanced and will be able to cope with household and professional tasks more easily. With a little practice, autogenic training, progressive muscle relaxation according to Jacobsen, and breathing exercises can be excellently integrated into everyday life. If you prefer to get some exercise, a walk in nature is a good alternative. The chirping of a bird or the sound of a stream are just as relaxing as yoga or meditation.