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Stress is a consequence of experiencing pressure or tension. It is a physical reaction which prepares our body for alertness. Stress can come from many different areas of life: work, hobbies, family, friends,…. It does thus not necessarily need to come from work. Stress must also be distinguished from pressure. Pressure namely looks at an amount of work/tasks, which need to be done properly within a certain period of time. Pressure can thus be a cause of stress, but is not the same thing. Stress is namely how we deal with this pressure. Based on previous explanation, we can now distinguish between two types of stress: healthy stress and unhealthy stress.
With healthy stress, we mean stress which pushes us to perform better. Some people namely need that extra push in the right direction. Healthy stress does not dominate our lives but instead makes it so that we perform better.
With unhealthy stress we mean stress which works against us. It causes us not to perform as well as we did before. It disturbs the way in which we function. It only becomes pathological when this stress also starts influencing other areas of our lives.
Stress has existed as long as mankind has. The function of stress, however, has changed with the years. In prehistoric times, stress helped people to survive. Stress only existed in the shape of a ‘fight-or-flight’ response. This means that one will be able to either fight or flee in dangerous situations. Stress causes this reaction, meaning people can escape from a dangerous situation.
In these situations, the body starts excreting adrenalin and cortisol. The latter is also called the stress-hormone. Your blood pressure will increase, muscles will tense up, our senses become stronger and our pain threshold decreases. All of this makes it so that we can fight or flight more easily or faster. In prehistoric times, stress thus had a useful function.
This ‘fight-or-flight’ response still exists in humans. People are namely genetically built up in such a way that stress is shown in dangerous situations. Because of the development of society over the past hundred years, people hardly end up in dangerous situations anymore. We therefore need this ‘fight-or-flight’ response less and less. Stress therefore got a different interpretation in our society.
When does someone have excess stress? Stress can become excessive if the person cannot ‘deal with’ the stress anymore, and the stress starts to dominate the person’s life. To explain excessive stress in a better way, we use the terms burden and carrying capacity. The burden is that burden caused by certain situations. This burden gives us negative feelings, making simple tasks more difficult. Examples of such burdens could be break-ups, a fight in the family, being overworked,…. Carrying capacity on the other hand refers to the positive factors in our lives, which support us and make us feel good. Examples of carrying capacity are humor, a good relationship, sports,….
In general, the burden and carrying capacity should counterbalance each other. They must keep each other balanced. The positive things will make it so that the negative things do not have a large impact on our lives. We can use the metaphor of a scale, with the burden on the one side and the carrying capacity on the other.
This is a display of healthy stress. Stress is present, but due to the positive things in life, the negative influence of this stress will not be large. However, it can also be so that we work less well, have trouble sleeping, have memory issues,…. These are influences of negative stress. Excessive, negative stress is caused when there is a much larger burden that carrying capacity. The carrying capacity is then unable to carry the load of this burden. The burden is also increased because this stress influences our daily functioning. This, too, can be illustrated with the help of a scale.
You can see that the weight is mainly found in the burden, while there is a severely lacking carrying capacity in comparison.
Stress has a large impact on the daily life and functioning. Below we will shortly sum up the symptoms of negative stress. The symptoms are divided up into physical, psychological, and cognitive symptoms.
Except for bodily symptoms, there also are psychological symptoms related to stress. Below we will sum up the most important symptoms.
Except for the symptoms above, there is a third category, namely cognitive symptoms of stress. These are also called the symptoms of thought.
Nervous exhaustion and burn-out are always consequences of a combination of a situation, the person, and the environment.
Situations that cause stress or recurring daily irritations (noise pollution from the neighbors or a computer which keeps crashing, a bad relationship with your boss or a bullying colleague) but drastic or traumatic events such as a divorce, the passing of a loved one, or resignation could also cause stress.
The way in which someone works, also plays an important role: something which is fun for one person, can be a very stressful task for someone else. People with burn-out often feel (too) strongly involved in their family or job. They are extremely motivated and ask a lot from themselves. They do not guard their limits, meaning they risk a burn-out. Other characteristics heightening the risk of unhealthy stress: having a hard time expressing your feelings, not being able to ask for help, not being able to say no, pessimism and a negative view of one’s own performance.
Looking at it from a different perspective there are many factors which protect one of the negative influence of stress, increasing the ability to deal with it: humor, talking about feelings, asking for help, saying no, optimism, an objective view of one’s own performance…
Your living environment also plays a large role: people who understand and support you, to whom you can talk about any problems you may have or simply people with whom you can spend time and enjoy yourself will help you deal with difficult, stressful situations.
As you become more and more stressed, the symptoms will worsen. It can be so that you start out without memory issues, but start to notice such issues appearing. The current symptoms, too, will worsen. You will sleep less, have an even harder time concentrating, cannot make any decisions whatsoever,….
Stress also lies at the basis of numerous other problems, such as burn-out and depression. Stress can also pathologically develop into a burn-out. After a period of not sleeping well and long-term stress, the fatigue will increase. You will not have any energy left over. Stress can even lead to a depression. You namely worry more and more about yourself and feel worse and worse. Somber moods and crying fits can also be symptoms of a developing depression. It is therefore crucial to get rid of stress as soon as possible.
It is important to act as quickly as possible with stress. If you change nothing about the causes/symptoms, you namely risk stress turning into more serious problems, such as burn-out and depression. You will feel more and more fatigued and symptoms will worsen. It therefore is a bad idea to ignore the symptoms; instead you should do something about them. Stress can namely cause a vicious cycle, where can get out by simply doing something about the stress. You can deal with stress by either reducing your burden, or increasing your carrying capacity. With this we mean that you should either reduce the stress, or incorporate more enjoyable things into your life.
People can deal with their stress themselves. After discussing it with your doctor, you can namely take a break. If the stress is not acute, you can also think about how you want to deal with your stress.
Another step could be making use of psychotherapy. With this help you can eliminate factors that are related to your stress, and learn how to get more out of life. This help does not always need to be face-to-face. You can namely decide to look for self-treatment online.
If one wants to make use of a caregiver, it is important that they get the right questions. Less important is whether the care is given by a computer or a person. From results it namely shows that stress reduces by up to 77% in the first month after starting to use Mijn Kwartier. It is, however, important to ask your doctor to give you a correct diagnosis and evaluate whether you need other treatment apart from therapy/self-help.
We developed the online self-help program ‘Mijn Kwartier’ to treat depression, stress, and burn-out. In this program you get daily guidance with solution based questions, which help you think about what helps and what does not help. In a series of videos, our doctors explain to you how you can recognize, treat, solve, and even prevent stress. This program will also send you a weekly report with your development in it. This is something you can discuss with your doctor. This way, they are also aware of your progress, if you want them to be.
You can even invite family members into the program to support you. We teach them how they can support you. We help them to understand you in a better way. However, you are not obliged to invite them. You can also opt to deal with stress on your own.