The difference between healthy and unhealthy stress

22.09.17

We all have day-to-day stresses. A tight deadline at work or a cracked screen on your smartphone might seem like a minor event in the scheme of things.

But these small stresses can start to add-up. When day-to-day stresses build-up, they can take a significant toll on your long-term mental health. That’s why it’s important to know when stress is starting to get unhealthy, and take some positive steps towards lightening your load.

What is stress and why can it be bad for you?

We all feel stressed from time-to-time—we might feel overwhelmed, and may be struggling to cope. This pressure can be internal – for example, a goal you’ve committed to yourself. Or it can also come from your outside world, such as your workload or a person you’re in a relationship with.

Stress can be helpful when experienced in small quantities. There are times when stressful situations help us adapt and excel, like when we play sport or challenge ourselves to be a great team player at work. But if stress builds up to a point where our usual coping techniques aren’t enough to keep things under control, this is when stress can negatively impact our health and wellbeing.

Your ‘stress bucket’

You might like to think of yourself as having a ‘stress bucket’. All the stressful events and occurrences throughout your day, even the minor ones, are like drops of water slowly filling the bucket. If you don’t find ways to empty the bucket and relax and de-stress on a regular basis, it will eventually overflow. For some people, this prolonged ‘overflow’ can lead to symptoms that can be difficult to manage, such as insomnia, anxiety, and depression.

But keep in mind, everyone perceives life’s daily ups and downs differently. What’s stressful to one is not to another. So, our buckets can be different ‘sizes’.

Warning signs of stress

Everyone experiences stress differently. However, common signs that someone may be under too much stress can include:

  • Chest pain
  • Racing heart rate
  • Unusual tiredness
  • Gut upsets (e.g. nausea, diarrhoea, constipation)
  • Muscle aches and pain
  • Unusual changes in appetite
  • Trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep.

Coping with stress

We all know deep down that eating a balanced diet and getting adequate rest can help your body and mind perform at their best. Stress can interfere with your ability to take care of yourself in this way. When you’re worrying so much you can’t sleep, getting adequate rest can become quite a challenge. Stress can affect your eating habits too.

When to get help

If stress is starting to interfere with your everyday life, it’s important to reach out and seek help. There are many health professionals and services available to help with information, treatment and support. Your GP can point you in the right direction.

Sources:

Charles ST Piazza JR Mogle J et al. The Wear and Tear of Daily Stressors on Mental Health. Psychological Science. 2013; 24(5):733-41.

EBSCO CAM Review Board, Patient Education Reference Center (PERC). Stress (Alternative Therapy) [Online] 2013 [Accessed Oct 2013]. Available from: http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=npr&AN=2009864645&site=nrc-perc. Registration and login required.

Heads Up. Workplace stress [Online; accessed Sept 2017] Available from: www.headsup.org.au

Winch G. Study finds minor stressors impact long-term mental health [Online] 2013 [Accessed Sept 2017] Available from: http://www.psychologytoday.com