We’ve all said it or have heard someone say it: “I’m so stressed out.” Stress is a part of all of our lives, whether it’s stress about school work, from a recent fight with a partner, or due to trouble at work. But what exactly is stress, how does it affect us, and how can we cope with it?
Stress: What Is It?
According to the World Health Organization (2023), stress is “a state of worry or mental tension caused by a difficult situation.” As stated earlier, we all experience stress at differing intervals throughout our lives. It can be short-term stress, such as when you’re studying for a challenging test, or chronic stress, such as when one is living in an emotionally volatile situation or from experiencing systematic oppression. Stress is the way our body and mind try to deal with difficult situations in order to get through them, and it is often an automatic response.
The Effects of Stress
Stress can affect different people in different ways. Many of us experience things like racing thoughts, muscle tension, and constant worry. We may also experience symptoms such as fatigue, changes in appetite, and headaches. Other symptoms include feelings of irritability, short-term memory issues, an inability to relax, and more. For long-term stress, these symptoms can become compounded, and not only will we be affected mentally, but also physically. The American Psychological Association has an in-depth article that further details the physical effects of stress on the body, if you want to learn more.
How To Deal With and Minimize Stress
Just like there are myriad ways in which we can experience stress, there are just as many ways we can cope with it. Journaling is a common exercise that is used. Research suggests that journaling could help to minimize symptoms of stress (Thoele et al., 2019). Journaling what is frustrating or upsetting you is a way to externalize your emotions in a healthy manner. If writing isn’t accessible or preferable, art could also be a stress-reliever.
Other recommendations include deep breathing exercises and yoga, as well as physical exercise. It doesn’t have to be a full weight training workout, either — any movement that is accessible to you can help reduce stress, such as walking or stretching. Music could help as well: research indicates that listening to music (whether it’s part of a specific music intervention done by a practitioner or simply listening to it on your own) could help reduce stress (de Witte et al., 2020).
Stress is a simple fact of life: we all have to deal with it. While it may feel different from one person to the next, there are just as many ways we can cope with it. Remember that you aren’t alone either: reaching out to a friend, family member, partner, or other trusted person when you’re feeling overwhelmed could help, too. If you find yourself feeling constantly overwhelmed, it may also be helpful to reach out to a mental health professional.
de Witte, M., Spruit, A., van Horne, S., Moonen, X., & Stams, G.J. (2020). Effects of music interventions on stress-related outcomes: A systematic review and meta-analyses. Health Psychology Review, 14(2), 294-324. DOI: 10.1080/17437199.2019.1627897.
American Psychological Association. (2023, March 8). Stress effects on the body. apa.org/topics/stress/body.
Thoele, D.G., Gunalp, C., Baran, D., Harris, J., Moss, D., Donovan, R., Li, Y., & Getz, M.A. (2020). Health care practitioners and families writing together: The Three Minute Mental Makeover. The Permanente Journal, 24, 19.056. https://doi.org/10.7812/TPP/19.056.
World Health Organization. (2023, February 21). Stress. who.int/news-room/questions-and-answers/item/stress.