Stress isn’t always a bad thing. When we talk about it, we usually mean something unwished-for. However, there are different kinds of stress, and not all stress is negative. Stress is important for survival, and for any kind of growth or development.
An optimal amount of stress sharpens our senses in new situations. This helps identify risks, and to process new information quickly. Also, we’re more to discover and learn new things when we are not in a relaxed state. This is what is called “positive stress”. A good example for this is the excitement we feel when we are dancing to a fast song, competing in sports or discovering new knowledge. After positive stress, relaxation is especially enjoyable. For example, the pleasant exhaustion we feel after mastering a physical challenge.
Stress becomes negative when we have to deal with it too quickly, or for too long. This can overload our nervous system’s natural ability to keep a healthy balance between activation and recovery. While our bodies do their best to manage stress-overload, this consumes a lot of energy and can have a negative impact on our physical and mental wellbeing. It also affects how well or badly we are able to interact with others.
When our nervous system is overloaded for too long, our body, mind and soul start to send “distress signals”. These differ from person to person. Stress reactions are not a sign of weakness. They are a natural response to an abnormal situation. Here are some examples for distress signals:
In our bodies, for example constant tension, sleeping problems, digestive problems and frequent headaches.
In our social lives, for example withdrawing from social contacts, “clinging” or getting into lots of arguments or fights.
In our feelings, for example feeling “empty” or “heavy-hearted”, frequent angry outbursts or constant irritability.
In our thoughts, for example “thinking too much”, having unpleasant thoughts that keep popping up, or aggressive thoughts towards others, or towards ourselves.
If you are worried because you are experiencing many signs of stress-overload in yourself or others, it’s important to seek help. With friends, with family, and of course with professionals. There are many ways to recover from stress overload and feel better again.