Life constantly challenges us with stressful situations. There are many reasons for this – for example, perpetual bickering with family members, attempting to elucidate homework to an inapprehensive child, or conflicts at work. Even sudden changes in life and their complete absence, a solid routine and “everyday life” lead to stress. In short, even the most unremarkable trifle can provoke its appearance, so it is virtually impossible to eliminate any worries from your life.
There’s nothing wrong with experiencing short-term stress. But when stress accumulates and becomes chronic, it’s a serious problem. Unfortunately, as a rule, even then, we continue to turn a blind eye to our well-being because dealing with our mental health is much harder than going headlong into a career, changing our hairstyle, or comforting ourselves with delicious food. I mean, admit it, who has done that, too, huh? But unfortunately, it won’t make the stress disappear, and getting rid of it will be much harder if it becomes latent or hidden.
Many people don’t realise how many simple yet effective ways of coping with stress exist. I will tell you about the ones that I use myself and which help me to eradicate stress at its root without triggering it. Nevertheless, first things first, so let’s answer the following questions!
What is stress, and what is its source?
To put it simply, stress is an emotional toll, and right away, I want to make it clear that it is a normal reaction of a healthy body to fatigue, excessive workload, and threats to our livelihood or comfort. That is how we resist the excessive physical or psychological activity we force ourselves to do. After all, if we think about the consequences of our decisions, we usually only focus on the implications for our wallet, reputation, and relationships but not on the consequences for our health, especially our mental health. However, it is the first thing you need to pay attention to if you want to build a successful career! I, like many people, have come to this conclusion by experience, after many mistakes and stressful situations. So now you have a unique chance to learn right away what people have been learning for years until they get it.
The hormone cortisol is responsible for stress in the body. The adrenal glands produce it in response to brain signals of danger. This hormone improves concentration and increases blood circulation and glucose synthesis, which helps the body to release additional energy to cope with stress. So, cortisol’s main function is to alleviate human adaption to changes in their environment. It’s healthy, isn’t it? But everything is good in moderation.
Each person reacts differently to an increase in cortisol levels, and the signs of an inappropriate rise are not always obvious to us. For example, absent-mindedness, irritability, insomnia or intermittent sleep, reduced immunity, and frequent colds are all symptoms of too much cortisol being produced lately. And you’d think that if you’re stressed, you should be able to feel it! Well, as it turns out, no, not always. That’s how latent stress comes about. We ignore it and hide all those symptoms in an “I’ll deal with it later” locker until the lock breaks and the vault gets filled with our accumulated junk. Well, that’s exactly what happened to me when all the symptoms listed above dramatically worsened to the point where I began to lose productivity, and that’s when I realised something was wrong.
Hidden stress. Discovering the causes
There are a few important things to know to unmask our hidden stress and deal with it once and for all.
- Stress is not always negative
Don’t think that only negative things cause stress. Pleasant excitement, the anticipation of something desirable, the proverbial ‘butterflies in the stomach’ – these are common examples of positive emotional experiences that also (along with negative feelings) cause physiological stress. And yes, it all has a devastating effect on the body too.
- Stress isn’t always in your head
Sometimes it’s not caused by your emotions, but by your environment. So you can’t blame only yourself when you’re stressed! On the contrary, you must be grateful to your body for keeping you safe from unwanted factors. For example, extremely low or high temperatures, extreme noise, and, to share my experience, even some relaxation techniques (e.g. aromatherapy, which is not suitable for everyone) can have a negative effect and cause stress. So you must learn to find the source of your stress and analyse yourself and your surroundings.
- Perception is reality
It may well be within you if you don’t understand the origin of the stress. After all, stressors can be both tangible and intangible. For example, low self-esteem, dissatisfaction with living conditions, etc., can increase anxiety and tension. But, of course, that, too, is normal! Yet, in this case, stress encourages you to change something about yourself, your perception or your decisions.
- Individual characteristics
How one perceives stress (whether one hides it or actively fights it) also depends on one’s psyche, temperament, and upbringing. All of these factors and genetics have shaped your character in time. So, I’ve often noticed (and it’s been proven by scientists) that people with neurotic personality types spend a lot of time thinking about their experiences, which prolongs their stress.
- The overall strain on your body matters too!
Frequently, excessive stress levels are not caused by one important factor, but by a combination of seemingly imperceptible stimuli. So don’t burden yourself with many tasks, and don’t pile mountains of work on top of you! Understand that if you overachieve the plan two, three, or four times this month, it is inevitable that burnout will come, and then you will lose more than you did before. So again, everything has to be in moderation.
How latent stress manifests itself in the life and work of the modern woman
According to a survey by the American Psychological Association, men and women react to and cope with stress in very different ways. The research proves that women are much more likely to develop physical and emotional symptoms of burnout. Therefore, as president of the Women’s Empowerment Council, I would like to talk separately about the factors that lead to overstressing and latent stress, specifically in women.
The most important of these, in my opinion, are:
- Gender isolation. Science has proven that women working in teams that men quantitatively dominate have significantly higher cortisol levels. Also, the demands placed on women tend to be much higher because of gender discrimination (“You have to be a good mother, a career woman and a home-maker at the same time!”). Consequently, we must work harder to demonstrate the same competence and professionalism as our male colleagues. And, as we know, workaholism and frequent overwork often lead to chronic forms of various mental disorders. Furthermore, we have to hide stress for the same reasons: to keep up with men in terms of performance.
- Pay inequality. It has long been an open secret that women earn less than their male counterparts with the same qualifications in many countries. Lower earnings also contribute to stress, whereas an equal income, determined in a fair and not gender-specific way, normalises mental well-being.
- An unfavourable social environment. Women sometimes face disrespect, insults, and harassment of all kinds, not only at work but also in their personal lives. These factors are undoubtedly considered major sources of stress. Moreover, the lack of support from loved ones, friends, and family also has a negative impact.
But here’s the good news: Statistically, even though women experience stress much more often, we cope with it much better than men! That is largely thanks to a new trend in online learning designed specifically for women. You can even find it on our Lectera platform in a special section, where international female experts help other women recover their poise, build their careers and balance it with caring for their families and themselves.
How to find out if your stress is “hiding” and defeat it
Hidden stress is not always obvious. If you don’t address it and work through the trigger situation, your subconscious mind may simply push it away as a traumatic memory, making it even harder to find the real source of stress. Furthermore, the anxiety will “biologise”, i.e. manifest itself as illness. It can manifest itself in the following ways:
- Frequent headaches.
- Stomach cramps, stomach aches, difficulty swallowing.
- Hair loss.
- Chest, back and neck pain.
- Fatigue, absent-mindedness, rapid lapse of concentration.
- Menstrual disorders (of course, this symptom only affects women).
- Increased anxiety.
- Eczema, itching, and skin diseases.
- No sooner had you recovered from one cold than you got another.
If you are experiencing at least two to three of these symptoms simultaneously, it’s time to act! Here’s what I can advise you to start with:
- Learn to make “me time” for yourself. You probably know a nice park or public garden, so go for a regular walk or hang out with friends. Grab a book and a thermos and just sit in silence. Or do something that makes you smile, even if it’s blowing soap bubbles in the bath.
- Take care of yourself. Of course, it applies to both men and women. We all feel better when we pick up a beautiful outfit, get a manicure, and get our hair done. So, feel free to admire yourself. It’s so easy and enjoyable!
- Do a little research on yourself and your mind. Remember your personal triggers. For instance, what often causes a negative reaction and makes you nervous? Try to minimise these things in your life. For example, don’t interact with a toxic colleague who makes you feel uncomfortable or refuse to babysit your sister’s child for free. Your comfort is the most precious thing you have.
- Don’t hesitate to see a therapist. Also, try meditation or yoga – maybe that’s just what you need!
- Validation! It is an essential skill today. It consists of the following: you listen to and get acquainted with a person’s opinion on a certain issue, but do not necessarily agree with them and their position. You simply must listen to someone else’s point of view, accept it, and come to terms with its existence. It broadens your mind, allows you to see things from new angles and to realise that you are not the only victim of stress. There are a lot of people who are. Your scary boss or nastiest client is probably one of them too!
Lifestyle matters too: regular exercise increases your body’s resistance to stress, while a balanced diet and avoiding alcohol prolong life and the period in which you can concentrate on a single task. I do not doubt that you will be able to cope with everything, especially if you take Lectera’s course “Stress Management. 40 Techniques: Improving Your Life!”