Hearing someone claim they’re ‘stressed out’ is about as common as hearing someone say ‘I’m tired’. We all feel stress from time to time, and some of us more than others. But what does it really mean to be stressed versus stressed out? And does the difference between the two matter?
Let’s start by defining both ‘stressed’ and ‘stressed out’.
Stress can be most simply defined as an individual’s response to the pressures and demands presented by their environment. This is also known as the ‘fight-or-flight' response.
Our bodies are designed to respond to stressful stimuli in this way. The stimulus can be a person, object, or even an event that feels threatening and results in the body switching into fight or flight mode
The term ‘stressed out’ of course, relates to the concept of stress. But it's defined as a time period where the stressful stimuli become overwhelming. Being "stressed" out is a result of a stressful situation (or combination of situations) that lasts for a longer period of time than one passing instance.
It can be common for us to feel stressed out constantly. We might also be unaware of what's causing that stress.
Usually, stress manifests in one of three ways:
Tame stress is the stress you don’t notice. It might be a result of small challenges in your day to day actions, such as getting out of bed or meeting new people.
But remember, tame stress isn’t necessarily a negative thing.
It can actually be healthy for us to take on tame stresses as they help prepare for larger challenges in the future. Ongoing adjustments and adaptations are good for the mind and body as we work to maintain balance.
This balance or homeostasis is the result of hormones and mediators that are released in tame stressful situations.
You likely know the feeling of the type of stress that's uncomfortable, but still manageable. This is also known as tolerable stress.
Tolerable stress takes place as a result of events like a shift in your role at work, your furnace breaking down, or making the move into a new home. While these are uncomfortable situations, they are manageable with the right resources and adjustments.
You might notice the slight negative impact of tolerable stress on your mood or sleep, but you can use control to overcome the circumstances. Often, you can even grow and become better because of it.
The last kind of stress is toxic stress. While some level of tolerable and tame stress is actually useful, toxic stress is a lot more serious.
Toxic stress takes place when there is no support or way to manage your stress. When the body is exposed to extreme stress for long periods of time without the opportunity, it becomes toxic.
It can be a result of several different kinds of serious stressors, including:
In some cases, toxic stress can also be compounded by less severe but chronic stressors on the body, including poor diet and a lack of exercise, lack of sleep, and failing to take breaks when they’re needed.
Our bodies become fatigued from toxic stress to the point where even minor frustrations feel like agony. This results in breaking down and burning out as we are unable to adapt.
At this point, "stressed out" might not feel like a strong enough term to describe how you're feeling.
Stress might be tricky to understand. And the truth is, until we understand it, we can’t learn to manage it. Unfortunately, the damage toxic stress can cause is something many people aren’t even aware of until something more serious takes place.
It’s helpful for anyone to understand their relationship with stress so they can best learn how it reveals itself, and then ultimately, how it can be managed.
So, whether you're stressed or stressed out, here are some of our best tips for understanding and managing stress.
Knowing about these signs and noticing when they are affecting you can help you to better understand your stress and how it manifests itself.
Some of the common signs of stress are:
The body gives us these cues to tell us it's in overload and you need to attend to your stress. If these signs are ignored, the consequences of your stress only become worse.
Identifying the sources of stress in your life is a great way to help manage it. The thing is, the process of identifying sources of stress can be more difficult than it seems.
There are a number of tools out there that can help you to assess your stress levels and determine if they are higher than they should be.
A stress assessment is a great way to get a better indication of where your stress develops from so that you can figure out where adjustments might need to be made.
Here's a handy self-assessment tool from the American Institute of Stress.
Stress manifests from many different areas, so it’s best to make sure that you are maintaining a lifestyle that better keeps you clear of toxic stress so you can focus on managing the other types of stressors that come your way.
Exercising, a nutritious diet, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle are important to making sure that your body is getting what it needs. When the body is nourished it is better prepared to cope with stress. Exercise also serves as a great way to relieve and manage stress and make you feel great.
Other lifestyle changes that can help you cope with and eliminate unnecessary stress (remember: some stress IS good!) include proper time management and maintaining a consistent sleep schedule.
Set yourself up for success and you will be better prepared for whatever stress may come your way!
If you’re known to over commit yourself or have workaholic tendencies, then making the time to recharge is going to be essential to stress management.
This includes taking the time to connect to others. Companionship can be incredibly calming and can trigger the release of natural stress relieving hormones. Human connection can also be helpful in times when you want to talk out your overwhelming stress.
It’s also important to recharge with fun and relaxation! Make time for yourself to recharge with your favorite activities, whether that be leisure sports or a simple bubble bath.
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