TOVI's Science Communicator, Ashley Miller-Dykeman, M.A.
Stress + You
In this guide, you’ll get the basics of stress, including what it is, how you can manage it better, and why you should make friends with it.
What Is stress?
Everyone has experienced “stress.” But what is it exactly?
Stress is a feeling you have. It’s caused by events that you think are uncontrollable, threatening, and/or challenging. The feeling of stress you have, in turn, causes a mental and physical response.
These events or things that cause stress are called stressors. They can be internal to you (for example, a personal fear of snakes) or external to you (like a real snake you encountered on your walk this morning).
Stress isn’t always bad. Everyone feels stressed at some point, and a little bit of stress can actually have positive benefits, like increased concentration, motivation, and personal growth. However, the effects of stress can add up, and after a certain point you can become overwhelmed and your ability to cope is weakened. This kind of stress can be harmful for health, especially if you’re constantly stressed.
The signs of stress
Stress isn’t just in your head. Stress can create a very physical response from your body, called “the stress response”. Because of this, there are a few signs that you can look for in order to see if you’re having a stress response:
A pounding heart
Quickened, shallow breathing
Tightness in your chest
A burst of adrenaline, resulting in a jittery feeling or fidgeting
Muscle tension (i.e. clenched fists or teeth, elevated shoulders)
Tightness in your stomach
There are some emotional signs as well:
Think of these as signs your body getting ready to deal with the stressor. Unfortunately, if you are under stress for an extended period of time, this physical response can be taxing to your body and mind.
That’s where your stress battery comes in.
Your stress battery
Think of yourself as a battery. Throughout your day, you use energy from your battery to deal with stressors (this ability to deal with stress is called resilience).
If you’re not recharging your battery, you can run out of energy. When you reach this state, unmanaged stress can keep piling on and lead to problems like burnout or chronic illness.
Luckily, there are ways for you to recharge your battery.
Setting yourself up
A healthy body and mind are key to conquering your stress.
Simple acts that help you live a healthier life, like getting enough sleep, eating well, exercising, and taking time for yourself, are all great ways to recharge your stress battery and get rid of stress.
Over time, they can also help you increase your overall resilience, meaning you’ll be better at managing stress and won’t need as much energy to get your stress under control.
Managing stress in the moment
When you’re feeling stressed, what do you do?
Trying to calm your body when you’re experiencing a stress response is another key part of managing stress and recharging your battery. You can think of this as managing stress in the moment.
The techniques you use to do this are commonly called “calming techniques.” Really, they’re activities that help you relax your body and focus your mind on the current moment. Sometimes they also help you look at the stressful experience in a different way to diffuse the stress you’re feeling.
As mentioned before, if you don’t manage stress, it builds up and gets more difficult to get under control. That’s why calming techniques are an important part of stress management.
Recovering from stress
Taking time to recover after a stressful experience is the third part of recharging your battery.
Recovering from stress can mean different things to different people, but in general, it means taking time to care for yourself (in a healthy way). Some people recharge by being by themselves; whereas others find it easier to recharge by socializing with others.
No matter what works for you, taking time to recover from stress is an important part of stress management.
Stress doesn’t have to leave you drained. With a little TLC, you can conquer your stress.
You don’t have to tackle stress alone. TOVI is here to help you with whatever stress management activities you choose to tackle. Download the TOVI app today – it's free!
Reviewed by: Lorena Ruci, PhD, Registered Psychotherapist