How Well Do You Recognize and Take Control in Stressful Situations? Find Out Here

We’ve all found ourselves in stressful situations and felt that tense, knot-in-the-stomach sort of feeling that hijacks our thoughts and emotions. When we feel stressed out, it’s hard to concentrate on anything other than the situation that’s creating anxiety. 

Ever wondered what makes a day-to-day interaction become a stressful situation or when acute anxiety becomes chronic stress? Let’s dig a little deeper to understand the basics about stress, what causes it, and what you can do if you’re feeling more anxious than normal.

What Are Stressful Situations?

There’s no one-size-fits-all description of stressful situation scenarios. Every individual responds uniquely to the events of daily life, so what’s extremely stressful for one person may not affect another at all. Take public speaking, for example. When you imagine yourself standing in front of a crowded room giving a presentation, does that thought  excite you or terrify you? 

Most people either love or hate public speaking. For the ones who loathe it, simply giving a brief presentation may stir up feelings of nervousness, sleepless nights, a sense of dread, or even butterflies in the stomach that turn to nausea just before the presentation is to start. 

People who love public speaking can’t imagine getting that worked up over a short presentation. But for the person who struggles being in the spotlight, it can be one of the most anxiety provoking scenarios.

Types of Stress 

“Stress is a normal reaction to everyday pressures but can become unhealthy when it upsets your day-to-day functioning. Stress involves changes affecting nearly every system of the body, influencing how people feel and behave.”
– American Psychological Association

Lingering stress can go from acute to chronic to stress disorders like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or Acute Stress Disorder, but experts label the two primary forms of stress acute or chronic.

What Is Acute Stress?

The University of Central Florida School of Medicine defines acute stress as “the stress experienced on a daily basis from minor situations. Coming in bursts, acute stress typically happens quickly and fades once the situation or circumstance has passed.”

What causes acute stress? Here are some example situations:

  • Arguments with loved ones
  • Project deadlines at work
  • Traffic backups
  • Crowded places
  • Loud noises 
  • Misplaced valuables 

Not sure if you’re experiencing acute stress. UCF points out some signs to look for:

  • Inability to sleep
  • Feelings of anxiety
  • Angry responses
  • Mood swings
  • Inability to focus

Acute stress happens in a moment, and our bodies react with a rush of hormones putting our fight-or-flight response on high alert. Hearts beat faster. Blood pressure rises. Then, when the traffic jam eases, the roar of the lawnmower quiets, or we find the wallet we’d misplaced, our bodies and minds calm. 

What Is Chronic Stress?

Chronic stress takes over when an acute stressor becomes an ongoing situation and we find ourselves in a constant state of high alert. 

“Causes of chronic stress could include poverty, a dysfunctional marriage or family, or a deeply dissatisfying job. In today’s hectic society, there are many possible sources. Chronic stress slowly drains a person’s psychological resources and damages their brains and bodies.”
– Yale Medicine

Here are some other examples of stressful situations that create chronic stress:

  • Adverse childhood experiences such as:
    • Growing up in an abusive home
    • Witnessing substance abuse in your family
    • Experiencing homelessness firsthand
    • Having a close family member incarcerated
  • On-the-job conflicts
  • Life-altering injuries
  • Financial struggles
  • Concerns about world events

Living with chronic stress creates some of the same symptoms as momentary acute stress but for a longer duration. Other signs also appear when you’re under undue stress for a prolonged period. Look for these symptoms:

  • Inability to sleep 
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Lack of energy
  • Unexplainable physical aches and pains
  • Anxiety
  • Headaches
  • High blood pressure

Ongoing difficulties in relationships, at work, and at home can create chronic stress. With acute stress, our bodies and minds settle after a situation passes, but with chronic stress, we stay in a heightened state because the circumstances are either unchanging or growing worse over time. 

What To Do To Manage Stress

“Because severe or continued stress can lead to consequences like heart disease and depression, it’s important to take steps to manage it. This may sound simplistic, but it helps to identify what’s causing your stress. Check your environment at home or work. Are you putting up with noise from neighbors that makes it difficult to sleep? Taking on too much at work?”

One of the best things you can do for yourself is manage stress proactively. Healthy activities like yoga, tai chi, meditation, and breathing exercises can help you relax and calm the innate fight-or-flight response. 

Getting outdoors or into the gym to get your body moving can also affect your ability to manage stressful situations. Sometimes when we’re feeling overwhelmed with stress, it may seem easier to shut off the lights, close the blinds, and blast through 15 episodes of a favorite TV show. But physical exercise is a much better response for both your mind and body.

It’s also helpful to make good use of your support system. Stay in touch with family and friends and let them know you’re feeling unusually pressured. Schedule coffee or lunch on a regular basis to get you through the difficult time. 

Other ideas you may find beneficial include:

  • Taking good care of yourself 
  • Participating  in hobbies you enjoy — read a book, listen to music, or build a bench in your woodworking class
  • Getting plenty of sleep
  • Eating a healthy, balanced diet
  • Nurturing your sense of humor
  • Prioritizing what’s most important and enjoyable
  • Saying “no” to unnecessary demands on your time
  • Developing problem-solving skills and the ability to be assertive
  • Seeking help from a professional counselor

Stress from fears, uncertainty about the future, long lasting insecurities, and limiting beliefs can be more difficult to manage. These kinds of triggers are often harder to overcome without professional help. Be sure to seek therapy with a counselor if you’re struggling to maintain a positive mindset or the belief that you can thrive in the face of life’s challenges. 

Reach out to BestDay’s counselors if you’re experiencing stressful situations that have become difficult to manage on your own. We’re here to help you live your best life.