I believe I can speak for everyone when I say that life has been pretty stressful lately. What with final exams looming and the seemingly endless amount of projects and essays that are always given to us at the end of the school year piling up fast, there are many reasons that can explain the feelings of stress you might be feeling at the moment. Though these feelings are quite common, most of us might not even know how stress works, how people came to know more about it, etc. Therefore, in honor of Stress Awareness Month, which is celebrated this month in the United Kingdom, read to find out more about its origins and how you can deal with the stress you might be feeling at the moment.
Stress Awareness Month has been held every April in the UK since 1992 to raise awareness of the sources and solutions for stress in modern society. It is an incentive for people to dedicate time to removing the guilt, shame, and stigma associated with mental health. Also to talk about stress and its effects, as well as to have conversations about our mental and emotional state with friends, families, and professionals. Many investigations and studies have been made about the cause of stress and how humans react to it in a variety of ways. Research into this topic began around 1936, when Hans Selye, a medical doctor, began to study stress and developed the concept of general adaptation syndrome, which is the process the body goes through when a person is exposed to any type of stress, whether it is positive or negative. It contains three stages: alarm, resistance, and exhaustion.
Firstly, the alarm reaction stage is encompassed by the initial symptoms experienced by the body when it is under stress, i.e. the “fight or flight” response. In this stage, the symptoms include an increased heart rate, the release of cortisol, a stress hormone, by the adrenal gland, and a boost of adrenaline, which increases energy.
After that comes the resistance stage; after the first shock of experiencing a stressful event and the fight or flight response, the body starts repairing itself, resulting in the release of a lower amount of cortisol, and the heart rate and blood pressure begin to normalize. Though the body enters this recovery phase, it will still be on high alert for some time. Once the stress has been overcome and the situation stops being an issue, the body continues repairing itself until the body’s hormone levels, heart rate, and blood pressure are fully back to normal and a pre-stress state is reached. Certain stressful situations can go on for long periods of time; if the stress is not resolved and the body remains on high alert, it will eventually adapt and learn how to live with an increased stress level. If this occurs, the person’s body will continue secreting cortisol and their blood pressure will remain elevated, and the resistance stage will eventually transition into the exhaustion stage. A few signs of the resistance stage include irritability, frustration, and poor concentration.
Finally, the exhaustion stage is described as the result of extended or chronic stress. Dealing with stress for lengthened periods of time can drain one’s physical, emotional, and mental resources to the point where their body has no strength to fight stress, which can lead to feelings of hopelessness. Indicators of exhaustion are: fatigue, burnout, depression, anxiety, and decreased stress tolerance.
Though Hans Selye’s research greatly contributed to the understanding we have of stress we have nowadays, it wasn’t until the 1950s that different personality types were established, which led to many additional discoveries in the psycho-social sciences as well as a better understanding of the potentially harmful impacts of stress on individuals and society. Though it is one of the greatest issues in regard to public health, it is still not taken seriously in comparison to physical illness, as with most mental health issues.
Stress can affect a person's well-being, whether physically, mentally, or emotionally, and these health complications can manifest themselves through issues including anxiety and depression, hormonal problems, trouble sleeping, elevated blood pressure, heart disease, and more. Therefore, even becoming more aware of stress and learning to apply different coping mechanisms can certainly help someone who is feeling overwhelmed by this emotion. This month is the right occasion to aid in breaking the stigma surrounding stress; if people become more aware of stress and there is less shame involved, then they will be more likely to reach out for help when they require it.