Stress is part and parcel of modern life and it isn't necessarily a bad thing. Positive stress motivates us and helps us to get things done. I suspect most of us would be living a vegetative life if there were no internal or external stressors at all to deal with! However, stress becomes negative when it demands too much personal and social resources that an individual can mobilise in a given situation. Coping abilities and motivational level of a person will finally determine if that demanding situation would be perceived positively or negatively by him/her.
The stress axis of a human body is a complex system. It is composed of the pituitary gland, thyroid gland, adrenal gland and its feedback loop to control cortisone level in blood. Sympathetic nervous system, which secrets adrenaline, is also a big player in this game! Premature and prolonged exposure to highly stressful environments can interfere with the efficacy of the feedback loop of stress axis, making the person excessively vulnerable to stress. Stress reaction has a physical component (e.g. rapid breathing, dizziness, cold clammy skin, butterfly sensation in stomach etc.) and a psychological component (e.g. fear, aggression, obsessive thinking etc.). It might be helpful to remember that mood, personality traits, self-esteem, knowledge, past- experience etc. also influence our perception of a situation as threatening (negative stress) or challenging (positive stress). Some recent research findings indicate that stress reaction can change genes (epigenetics) and stress reaction patterns can potentially be passed on to next generation.
Most common sources of stresses are: conflict in relationships, work overload, indecision and change (e.g. in financial status).
Some healthy stress management techniques could be:
Changing the situation: Remove yourself from the source of stress like toxic relationships or reroute your commute to avoid bad traffic etc.
Change how you react to situations: Improve your coping abilities by exercise, healthy eating, self-care, reaching out to support system etc.
Change how you look at situations: Change perspective and try to see it from another mind-frame.
Sense of humour: This helps to take the power away from a stressful situation and change the brain chemistry in favour of effective handling of the situation.
People learn to manage their stress better through trial and error. Honest self-reflection and learning from mistakes help the process of self-development. The brain has a tendency of going on autopilot under stress; mindfulness and conscious living is a valuable tool in fighting back that tendency. Sometimes, bad judgments, reactivity or premature actions multiply stress levels through negative consequences. Practice of meditation, prayer etc. help to gain patience to pause and think before acting on impulses. Learning to accept personal limits and being able to say “no” to others are valuable skills to avoid being stressed out from overload.