What is stress?
The stress reaction has previously been vital for survival, but in today’s society you seldom need to resort to a physical fight to survive. Even so the body experiences roughly the same reactions whether you perceive a real threat or are just running for the bus. The stress reaction is the result of mental effort or strain, for example when you get angry at someone or feel that you have too much to do.
Situations that cause stress do not always have to be negative. You may, for example, feel stressed by entering a competitive event, organising a large party or giving a lecture or talk. In these situations, stress can provide the extra energy needed to get through the task.
A situation that might seem stressful to one person can be perceived as pleasant by another. How you react to a situation depends on various things, for example your previous life experience and what sort of person you are. But there are some things that a lot of people consider stressful. For instance, many people feel a great deal of pressure when they have too much to do at work or in school. Some people may also experience stress in their private life with family and friends because of social demands that feel hard to live up to. Demanding situations that you have little control over and which you have to deal with alone are most stressful. It is also possible to become stressed by not having enough meaningful tasks or challenges in your life. Stress can develop, for example, in the event of long-term unemployment, when the balance between activity and rest is also disrupted.
Great pressure can cause stress
A lot of people think that great pressure is put on them by others, but sometimes it can be the pressure you put on yourself that causes the most stress. The pressure you put on yourself can, for example, be due to previous experiences or how you were brought up.
If you value yourself based on how you perform, or believe that others value you in this way, this is called performance-based self-esteem. The vast majority of people may think this way about themselves sometimes, but if you always value yourself based on how you perform, it is easy to put pressure on yourself to do more and more to feel that you are worth something. It is then easy to lose respect for yourself when you are not able to perform to your usual standard, for example when you are ill or having a personal crisis.
Warning signs and symptoms
Stress affects many parts of the body and can take different forms for different people. Clear signs and warning signals can include one or more of the following:
- You are tired in the mornings, even after having slept for a long time and undisturbed for several nights in a row
- You have difficulty falling asleep in the evenings and perhaps wake early in the mornings without being able to go back to sleep
- You have difficulty relaxing and winding down
- You feel indifferent to what is happening around you, low and anxious
- You are finding it more difficult to concentrate
- You are having trouble remembering things
- You feel anxious
- You are constantly having negative thoughts
- You become irritable and lose your temper over little things
- You have stomach pains, tension headaches or palpitations
- You feel stiff, tense and sore all over
- You feel resigned and tired, and therefore avoid social contact
- You have lost interest in sex
- You are picking up infections more easily and more often
- It feels more difficult to breathe properly
- You think that there is not enough time and therefore try to do things even quicker
- You avoid rest, leisure activities, going out and contact with friends and family because there is not enough time
- You need alcohol, nicotine, caffeine or sleeping pills to cope with day-to-day life, or turn to fatty or sugary foods, alcohol or nicotine for comfort.
- Ask for help if you are feeling stressed at work.
- Think about what demands are reasonable to make of yourself.
- Practise saying no.
- Always being reachable and connected to social media can also be a source of stress. If this is the case, it may be a good idea to not always have your mobile on or with you, or to turn off the computer sometimes.
- Write a list of situations or things that make you feel stressed. By gathering your thoughts, thinking about things and putting your thoughts and feelings into words, it is easier to see where the difficulties lie. This then also makes it easier to try to find ways to avoid stress or solve the problem.
- In order to more easily protect against stress, it is important to take care of yourself and your health. It is also a good idea to eat proper meals at as regular times as possible.
- If you exercise or keep in shape, you will be stronger and better able to cope, both physically and mentally. Someone who is in good health is less susceptible to stress.
- When you are stressed it is easy to avoid physical activities to save time, but looking after your body and exercising as much as possible is particularly helpful during stressful periods.
- Try to get some proper sleep. Regular sleeping hours, getting to bed on time and a cool and dark bedroom can all help you to sleep better.
- Consume alcohol in moderation.
- Go easy on the alcohol. Alcohol can seem relaxing to start with, but it can also make you more susceptible to stress.
- Try to find your own way of relaxing and feeling calm and peaceful.
- Someone who is stressed is often in a hurry to get everything done and so speeds up. Consequently, you can reduce stress levels by trying to do things more slowly again.
- Learn a relaxation exercise or pause for breath; use this as a way of taking a break when you feel that you are getting stressed.
- When life seems demanding, you may need a lot of time to yourself and sometimes simply feel unable to cope with other people. It is a good idea though to stay in touch with family, friends and acquaintances even if this feels difficult.
If you experience stress regularly and have problems sleeping, feel anxious or experience palpitations, you can contact your local health centre (vårdcentral). It is important that you seek help as soon as possible if stress is making you unwell and you feel that you cannot cope on your own. You can always get medical advice by calling 1177.