The simplest way to understand stress is to imagine it like physical load being placed on a person. While some amount of stress is bearable, too much load can lead to a breakdown in this person. Some amount of stress is helpful for motivating a person to work, increasing excitement, and improving performance. Excessive stress, on the other hand, occurs when the demands made from a person exceed the capacities of the person to fulfil them.
Stress is caused by changes inside or outside of us, such as the diagnosis of a serious health problem or changing cities for further studies or coming out to one’s family and friends. Stress happens in two ways – one is an event that happens suddenly that can cause a person stress – such as demonetisation, while the other are longstanding problems like being a woman living with an abusive partner.
Stress is experienced by everyone and everyone responds to it differently. People are different from one another in the experiences they have had in their lives, their biological make up, and social environment, and each person’s response to the same stress is different and unique. For example, on experiencing the end of a relationship, one person may feel distressed to the point of wanting to end their life while another may find a new fondness for their remaining relationships.
In a state of stress, a person may show different physical, emotional, and social responses. Our response to stress is like how we respond to the fire alarm in a building – in a panicked and alarmed way. Once we are sure that the danger has passed, we settle back. There is a fright-flight- fight response. It is like running for your life from a dog – the whole body is in a state of an emergency war-like situation. Once the danger is passed, a healthy body and mind can relax again. But in some situations the dog doesn’t leave or it keeps coming after you very often – that is when the response of the mind and body suffers. The ability of the mind and body to keep its energy up to fight becomes lesser and lesser leading to a state of exhaustion. This is when the brain and body ‘give up’ making the person more vulnerable to facing physical and mental concerns such as fatigue, sleeping difficulties, and aches and pains. In some cases, one may develop anxiety disorders, depression, phobias etc. One may develop other physical health concerns like asthma, tension headaches, constipation, sexual problems, irritable bowel syndrome, menstrual disorders, hypertension, diabetes etc. Excessive stress may also worsen already existing physical and mental health concerns.
The best way to tackle the stress related issues is preventing them. There are many healthy ways to do so which focus both on the mind as well as the body. Four pillars for a stress-less life are – spirituality, physical activity, balanced diet, and sharing one’s issues with someone who can really listen.