The use of the word stress has become so common place in recent years that it would seem that everyone is affected by it in some form. But is this likely? What does the term mean, do people experience it in the same way, and is the result of being stressed always associated with anger?
What is Stress?
In the context of anger management, stress – the state of being in distress – refers to:
Mental or emotional tension associated with feelings of anger, frustration or anxiousness caused by adverse or demanding circumstances/situations/thoughts (stressors) that may factor in disease causation.
We all suffer from some form of stress, for it is an aspect of being sentient. Stress is the tension we experience through interacting with our environment e.g. one’s workplace, with our colleagues, friends, family, partner and the activities that we are involved in, such as projects at work, social or study activities.
However, when the majority of people refer to the term, they implicitly focus on its negative traits. In this context, to be stressed is a form of being in distress. Even though stress can be caused by under-stimulation (e.g. boredom), common usage refers to a state of being over-stimulated i.e. when one is experiencing too much stress.
Many people use the term stress for any situation involving the slightest difficulty or challenge, but this dilutes the seriousness the condition has on those who are really affected by it. Genuine stress is a corrosive, damaging and dangerous condition that can be very difficult to deal with and which greatly impacts the sufferer and those around them.
Forms of Stress
Therefore it is important to understand the two forms of stress:
- Positive stress can help us to achieve our goals, complete a project successfully and make effective changes to our working or personal lives. It is usually not what causes us to become distressed or suffer negatively from stress.
The pressures of taking on new challenges and activities and carrying them out successfully can be motivating and result in feelings of excitement and fulfillment. Mild, manageable stress helps us to achieve our deadlines, get to appointments on time, remember important dates, get those last minute details worked out on a project that is due tomorrow, perform to the best of our ability and produce high quality work.
People sometimes refer to this type of stress as ‘being stoked’, ‘being up for it’, ‘having a real zest for life’, ‘living life to the full’ etc. However, too many minor stresses can build up to create an unhealthy overall level of stress.
- Negative stress is caused when the pressures around an individual become overwhelming with the potential to damage one’s emotional and/or physical well-being. Once the pressures become too intense, the fear of failing and not coping adds further tension to the situation. What would, individually, be manageable challenges, combine to become unmanageable and stressful.
For example, undertaking a course of studies and preparing for exams, especially if working at the same time, can raise stress levels to a high or potentially damaging level. Alternatively, if you find yourself at work with more and more overlapping work activities combined with impending deadlines and high quality targets, this can build up to the point where an individual can no longer cope.
At other times, we will experience an event that in itself results in exceptionally high levels of stress. Examples include bereavement, losing a job or the ending of a relationship. Furthermore, negative stress can be viewed as being either acute e.g. losing a loved one, or chronic e.g. being in a bad relationship.
Being aware of the dangers of negative stress, and how to manage stress, is essential. It is one of the many skills that are required by individuals aiming for successful personal and career development.
Why Does Stress Affect People in Different Ways?
It is now accepted that stress affects different people in different ways. Pressures that can become too much for some people can be absorbed relatively easily by others. The reasons for this are many and involve a mixture of nature (hereditary/genetics) and nurture (non-hereditary/environmental).
Personality differences play an important role. One person may see the pressure as a challenge to be overcome, whilst another will have doubts about their ability to cope, and see the same pressure as a threat. It may be that the more positive person has been trained better or is more experienced, whilst the negative person has had a bad experience in the past or is facing the pressure situation for the first time.
The situation can be more complex however, such that when an individual has most areas of their lives running smoothly, the pressure from a single event or area of their lives can often be managed without difficulty. The same event can be overwhelming for an individual who is faced with many difficult situations concurrently in their life. It just might be the case that the latest challenge becomes the ‘straw that breaks the camels back’.
How Can You Tell if You Are Suffering From Stress?
Aside from possible anger management issues, symptoms of stress can manifest themselves in many forms, including:
- Physical signs such as headaches (tension) or migraines, clenching or grinding of teeth possibly leading to tooth and jaw aches, muscular or chest pains, poor concentration, stomach and digestive problems including excessive acid and ulcers, heart palpitations, hypertension (high blood pressure), strokes and heart disease. There is also growing evidence to show a link between stress and the increased risk of developing certain cancers. For example, a long-term study (over 24 years) carried out by Swedish researchers indicate that stress doubles a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer.
- Emotional signs such as feeling helpless and unable to cope, depression or even suicidal-tendencies, being irrational or tearful without apparent reason, anger, frustration, resentment, rage, worthlessness, despair, distrust, anxiety and fear.
- Other signs include over or under eating, losing interest in work, study or socializing, poor performance academically or at work, irritation and arguments with spouse or colleagues, having friends or family voice their concerns about you.
What Can I do to Manage my Stress?
The key to success is summed up by the acronym A.L.F.:
- Acknowledge that stress can be a dangerous enemy.
- Learn about it.
- Find ways to manage it effectively.
By taking preventative action and consistently applying recognized stress management techniques, stress can usually be managed successfully. However, mindset is very important. One common characteristic of those who manage stress successfully is that they view stress, pressures and complexity as an area of their lives that has to be managed, and they take defensive action if the pressures build to unreasonable levels.
In addition, the use of conventional and complementary anti-anger treatments may be yield positive results. Natural medicines may include certain herbal powders, tinctures, teas or supplements e.g. Ashwagandha, Chamomile or Magnesium, whereas conventional anger management medication may involve over-the-counter or prescription drugs to reduce anxiety and stress e.g. beta blockers.
If you are suffering from genuine stress it is imperative to take action immediately. The article 25 Tips to Beat Stress provides useful tips to help prevent stress from damaging your life and assist you in managing it more successfully. They are grouped into do’s and don’ts and many of the issues touched upon therein will be explored in greater depth elsewhere throughout this site.