Coping with Different Types of Stress

All human beings are subject to external pressure and stressors from the environment. The ability to identify and respond to threats that impact survival requires a mobilisation of key energetic and metabolic systems that regulate the homeostasis of the body. 

In humans, stress responses include changes in the delivery of oxygen and glucose to the heart that facilitate the activation of physiological responses such as “fight and flight”. Stress is a broad term that encompasses various types of stressors – physical, psychological and psycho-social. It is commonly believed that stressful situations only relate to formal pressure, such as taking an exam or relocating. 

But stress is more complex and can manifest across various dimensions of someone’s life. This article will discuss the various manifestations of stress in more detail and will give specific examples for each category. 

The Different Types of Stress

Physical stress 

In this category can be included certain traumas that occur on a physical level or factors that deplete the physical body of key elements required to function optimally. For example, undergoing a surgery or suffering from an infection is perceived by the immune system as a stressor that has to be fought against to achieve balance. 

Doing intense physical labour that depletes energetical systems and leads to fatigue is also internalised as a source of stress by the body. Other physical stressors are; pollution (such as exposure to heavy metals, radiation, noise, inadequate light, pesticides, etc.), illness (bacterial or viral agents), hormonal and/or biochemical imbalances, dietary stressed caused by insufficient nutrient rapport, food allergies and sensitivities, substance abuse, dental challenges, etc. 

Psychological stress 

This includes all types of stress that affects the mental equilibrium and can be emotional (such as carrying unaddressed resentment, frustration, anger, or undergoing periods of grieving and bereavement), cognitive (a desire to control everything, information overload, perfectionism, external pressure to perform at a certain level, self-criticism) and perceptual stress (world view, attitudes, beliefs about oneself and the world, roles, etc.). 

Psycho-social stress 

This type of stress can extend to situations outside of the individual’s control and can include relationship and marriage difficulties, lack of adequate social support, insufficient resources for managing one’s life, lack of social and employment opportunities, being isolated from social links and communities. 

Psycho-spiritual stress 

Although this type of stress is often overlooked, undergoing a crisis of values or a loss of meaning and purpose can also be highly distressing. The confusion and the overwhelming emotions that result from these experiences can be perceived as a stressor. Being in a job that does not offer fulfilment, meaning, and a sense of purpose or that is in misalignment with one’s spiritual and existential beliefs also disrupt the harmonious functioning of the psychological and physical systems. 

In conclusion, stress is highly diverse and can occur on multiple dimensions of someone’s life. This makes it difficult to identify, as seemingly banal events, such as a lack of meaningful work and close relationships can be overlooked as unimportant for the overall healthy functioning of a person. 

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Coping with stress

Stage 1: Analysing Your Boundaries

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Do you sometimes doubt that you have a right to have your needs met, or make little effort to have them met?
  • Do you avoid speaking up for yourself, and do you “let things go” without reacting to bad situations?
  • Do you tend to avoid conflict? Do you let others have their way or allow them to make decisions for you?
  • Do you sometimes agree to do things that you really don’t want to do – and later regret it?

If you answered mostly “yes,” then chances are that people see you as a “soft touch” who they can manipulate into doing what they want, without negotiation. It’s time, then, to start strengthening your boundaries!

Stage 2: Understanding Your Needs

You may believe that to get along with others, or to do the job that you’re paid to do, you need to give much more than you take. Perhaps you say things like, “Whatever you choose will be great!” and agree to do things that you don’t want to do, and shouldn’t have to do.

This may avoid conflict with others, but it can create conflict inside you. Anger and tension can build because you’re not getting what you need, and this can lead to bad behaviour or burnout. It’s far better to identify what you need and develop strategies to ensure that your needs are met.

So, think of times when you felt angry, tense or resentful, or times when your reaction to something embarrassed you. These were likely occasions when your needs were not met.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • What need were you denied?
  • What did you really want?

This process of self-reflection and positive reinforcement will help you to develop the emotional intelligence  to understand and manage your needs. Don’t minimise your own self-worth – you deserve the treatment and respect that you give to others!

Stage 3: Setting Healthy Boundaries

Now that you understand the needs and boundaries that must be in place for you to be happy, you must change your behaviour –  and let others know. They won’t figure it out on their own!

The key is to be assertive . This means being firm – but not aggressive – about your own rights, needs and boundaries, while considering those of others. When you’re assertive, you get your point across firmly and fairly, but with empathy.

An essential part of this is to practice saying “no,” politely but firmly. Many people find this hard. After all, we are social animals, and we like to be liked, and useful to others.

But if you say “yes” to everything, you risk not having enough time to do anything properly. You also risk not working on the things that are truly important, and you’ll end up feeling used or frustrated. Far better to say “no”  more often, and to concentrate on meeting your needs.

Stage 4: Maintaining and Respecting Your Boundaries

Setting boundaries will likely give you an immediate sense of empowerment, but “holding your line” and maintaining them can be hard, especially if others are used to you not doing so.

You need to maintain a clear sense of what you will and will not accept, but be realistic and adaptable when necessary. Reset boundaries to suit your situation, and rethink ones that later seem too rigid. Remember not to isolate yourself or to simply stop collaborating .

When your boundaries are under threat, look out for the negative emotions that you associate with the situation and work to control them, while calmly reasserting those boundaries.

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