What Causes Stress and How Can We Manage It?

October 10, 2021

When you’re feeling particularly stressed out, what causes stress might not be at the front of your mind. Instead, you’re focusing on getting through the stressful situation and coming out on the other side. But understanding how stress works is a key element of learning to manage it. 

That’s why in this post, we’re going to discuss what causes stress, including the differences between the sympathetic vs. parasympathetic state. 

What is Stress?

Here’s a helpful definition from NIH:

“In medicine, the body’s response to physical, mental, or emotional pressure. Stress causes chemical changes in the body that can raise blood pressure, heart rate, and blood sugar levels. It may also lead to feelings of frustration, anxiety, anger, or depression.”

Stress, as we know it, is a feeling, but it involves a lot more than that. When we feel overwhelmed or panicked during a stressful situation, “stress” is the body’s response to what it perceives as a threat. As part of this response, the body releases stress hormones, including cortisol.

Stress and the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) go hand in hand. This is the system that’s known for your “fight or flight” response in response to threats. It can do things like speed up your heart rate, slow down digestion, and much more. 

On the other hand, when you’re not in a highly stressful situation, the body’s natural state is maintained by the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). This system controls homeostasis and it’s associated with your “rest and digest” response. 

It’s also worth mentioning that not all stress is bad! In fact, a certain level of stress for short periods of time is healthy. But it’s all about finding that sweet spot between being bored and overwhelmed. The problem is, when stress is prolonged it can get out of control and have a serious effect on your health and well-being (including your ability to lose weight), it’s time to address it.

What Causes Stress? 

Now that we know more about what stress is, let’s talk more about what causes stress.

We often associate stress with things like a tight deadline or being stuck in traffic. These are certainly stressful situations, but what causes stress can go far beyond these day-to-day disturbances. Stress, for some, seems to come up even when nothing is inherently stressful or wrong. But in general, it comes up when we are facing big changes, under a lot of pressure, or worrying about something that has or might happen. 

It can also come from trauma, instability, working or living in dangerous conditions, and violence. 

Strategies for Managing Stress

There are a number of ways to help get your stress under control. If at any point, your stress becomes unmanageable and impacts your health, it’s important to seek professional medical help right away. 

To manage your stress, there are a number of strategies to employ that can make a big difference. For starters, it won’t surprise you to hear exercise is one of the best ways to manage stress. (We talk more about the mental health benefits of exercise in this post

Even starting with something as simple as a 20-minute walk each day can go a long way in boosting your mood and managing your stress levels.

Group fitness can also play a big role in reducing stress levels in your life while also making you healthier and fitter at the same time. Not to mention, the group mentality and connections you can make in these classes can come with added benefits for your stress levels, mood, and mental well-being.

Want to learn more about group fitness classes from Xtend Fitness? Click here!

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