Stress is often described as a feel of being overwhelmed, tense and worried. Everyone will experience some form of stress whether it be a result of study, work, family pressure or financial strain. There are times when stress can be helpful to motivate us to complete a task or perform well. There are times, however, when the stress becomes too great and in turn this becomes detrimental to our health and well-being as it interferes with our ability to cope with normal life or we are in a stress state for too long.
Acute stress is brief and often related to the demands of a particular situation (exam due date), facing a particular challenge, or traumatic event. When symptoms last from three days to one week following exposure to traumatic event then then may go on to become acute stress disorder.
Signs and Symptoms of Stress
When placed in a stressful situation, our bodies release a number of hormones such as adrenalin and cortisol. These hormones are designed to help the body to react quickly and effectively to meet the stressful challenge. However, this results in physical changes to the body and on an ongoing basis this can have a negative impact. The physical response is commonly known as the “fight or flight” response and includes an increase in heart rate, breathing, blood pressure, metabolism and muscle tension.
Symptoms of stress include:
- Headaches and body pains
- Upset stomach
- Feeling moody and tearful
- Difficulty concentrating
Symptoms of Acute Stress Disorder:
In the case of acute stress disorder, there is usually a re-experiencing of the stressful and traumatic event and a strong anxiety response. A strong anger response is also a common sign and symptom of acute stress. Other symptoms of acute stress disorder include:
- Exposure to actual or threatened death or serious injury or sexual violation, either directly, witnessing, or hearing about an event occurring for a family member.
- Intrusion symptoms – intrusive memories
- Negative Mood – Inability to experience happiness
- Dissociative symptoms – An altered sense of self
- Avoidance symptoms – Effort to avoid reminders or triggers
- Arousal symptoms – Sleep disturbance, irritable behaviour, or hypervigilance.
Treatments and Outcomes
Learning how to recognise and handle stress is an important step in maintaining a healthy and well-balanced life. In the instance of exposure to a significant stress, then seeking assistance from a mental health professional is advisable. There are also many strategies that can be adopted to help recognise and handle stress on a daily basis.
The warning signs of an increased stress level are different for everyone, but common signs include:
- Tense jaw
- Grinding teeth
- Feeling irritable and short-tempered
If you are aware of what your triggers are then you are in a better position to either avoid them or manage them when encountered through calming exercises. Common triggers include
- Late night
- Competing or tight deadlines
- Certain people
Maintaining a predictable and manageable routine can be reassuring and provide the time and space for self-care activities.
- Exercise and relaxation
- Regular meals
- Preparation and planning of work and domestic duties.
Allocating time for relaxation will help you and your body to calm the nervous system, settle and readjust.
- Yoga, mindfulness, meditation and progressive muscle relaxation
- Spending time with friends and loved ones
- Other pleasure activates such as reading, movies, or a good book.
If high levels of stress continue for a long period of time and are starting to impact on your health and well-being, then it could be advisable to seek assistance from a mental health professional.
Australian Psychological Society
Lovallo, W. R., & Lovallo, W. R. (2005;2004;). Stress & health: Biological and psychological interactions (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, Calif: Sage Publications.
American Psychiatric Association. DSM-5 Task Force, & American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: DSM-5 (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Association.