Stress is a complex issue, and finding answers about it can be difficult due to the conflicting information available. Health and fitness professionals are often approached by clients, friends, and loved ones with questions about stress. It is important to remember that there are no one-size-fits-all answers to stress-related questions, and the right answer depends on who the asker is, what their goals are, where they are starting from, and how much they are willing and able to change. While excessive, unrelenting stress can lead to adverse health outcomes, not all stress is bad, and stress can be beneficial in moderation.
To find your stress “sweet spot,” it is important to recognize that stress that is long-lasting, relentless, and demoralizing is associated with numerous health issues, and it is important to try to reduce or avoid these stressors. Shorter bursts of stress that are manageable and provide opportunities to recover can help build resilience and empowerment. Perception also plays a role in how stress is experienced, and individuals who believe that stress can make them stronger and more resilient are more likely to proactively solve problems and seek out challenging experiences.
The signs and symptoms of stress depend on whether it is acute or chronic. Acute stress generally causes the sympathetic nervous system to ramp up, which can lead to faster heartbeats, deeper and quicker breathing, bursts of energy or focus, and shakiness. Chronic stress is when the sympathetic activation lasts for days, weeks, or months, leading to numerous physical and mental health issues. Signs of chronic stress include excessive worrying or anxiety, poor mood or energy, poor appetite, digestive problems, trouble sleeping, unfocused thinking, and weakened immunity.
Anxiety and stress are related but are different. Anxiety involves a persistent feeling of apprehension or dread, often linked to negative thoughts and ruminations. Stress usually starts in response to a situation or event and ends when the situation is resolved. Many stress management techniques can also be effective in reducing anxiety, but if anxiety is especially intense, long-lasting, or interferes with quality of life, it is best to consult a healthcare professional. Overall, it is important to remember that stress is subjective, and the right approach to managing it depends on a variety of individual factors.