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Coping with stress: causes and physical symptoms Print E-mail

Coping with the causes of stress can help you avoid the physical symptoms of stress.

We all encounter stressful situations in our everyday lives. For example, we may need to meet deadlines at work, have to take an exam for which we are unprepared for, or have to face relationship difficulties. Similarly, a sudden change in our surroundings, such as moving to an unfamiliar country or from a rural to congested area can cause stress.

The primary stress need not necessarily be unpleasant--events that are regarded generally as being enjoyable may also involve underlying stressful elements. According to studies, getting married has been ranked as being almost as stressful as loosing a job. The nature of the stress is not as important as the amount of it. Stress in life may increase an individual’s performance level. It is only when the amount of stress exceeds an individual’s tolerance level that performance starts to decline. People vary enormously in the amount of stress they can cope with and for a particular individual; the tolerance level can vary greatly over their lifetime.


Often the onset of chronic stress happens over a long period of time and the individual gradually adapts to the changing state of mind and body, unaware of the increasing burden. Signs of increasing stress can be physical or mental in type. Nervous mannerisms such as biting the nails or repetitive tapping of a pen or foot are signs of an inner state of upset. Medical problems such as asthma and hypertension can be associated with the long-term stress response. These illnesses may be caused or worsened by chronic stress. Psychological disorders associated with stress range from mild anxiety or depression to a complete inability to cope on a daily basis.

Allowing stress to accumulate can cause outbursts of anger or violent behavior. Stress-related traffic accidents often occur after an explosive argument, tension at work, fatigue, or too much alcohol. Heavy smokers are more likely to develop stress even though most claim they smoke to relax. Addiction to alcohol or other drugs can produce stressful reactions.

We all react to environmental factors differently, depending on our personalities and backgrounds. We will find it much easier to manage stress if we are able to use adverse conditions in a positive way--to teach us how to improve our situation by practicing detachment. Distancing ourselves from the situation and not expending unnecessary energy allows us to be less sensitive to events beyond our control. This also means letting go of our ego and not allowing our emotions such as anger, sadness, or fear overtake our judgment. Putting things into perspective and being realistic about the situation is the only was to gain true perspective. If we are immersed in a problem, we lack the objectivity to solve it and this can cause stress. But in the opposite extreme, distancing ourselves too far by being indifferent does not relinquish us of our responsibility.

Being totally dependent upon someone else, emotionally, can cause intense anguish. When we are passionately in love, the stronger our attachment is to the other person, the worse our pain will be when the relationship ends. Being unable to accept the fact that it is permanently over prolongs our distress.

One of the most effective means of countering stress is to avoid boredom. We need to keep our minds active. The more stressed we are, the faster we will age physically. Scientists have found the normal ageing process accelerates from the time we lost interest in life. To keep our minds healthy, we should have something to look forward to--a new hobby, pastime, or special event. If we can set goals in life to be a more caring, supportive, tolerant, and patient, then we can gain a better perspective on human life while correcting our own faults and insecurities.

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SAMHSA's Resource Center to Promote Acceptance, Dignity and Social Inclusion Associated with Mental Health