Expert insights on stress: what is it and how to deal with it?

“I am under so much stress!”  Today the word “stress”, forms part of most people’s daily vocabulary. It has almost become an acceptable phenomenon.  However, the effects of stress on ill-health are not seriously pondered.

What is stress?

There is positive and negative stress.

  • Distress, which is negative stress is classified into two; that is Acute and Chronic stress

Acute Stress: it is an intense type of stress but it passes quickly.

Chronic stress:  affects the body for a long period of time.

However, stress starts slowly but builds up within time as shown here below through the different stages of stress.

Stages of Stress

  • Stress can initially improve performance but after certain level and amount of time, functioning and health become negatively affected. It is at this point stress decomes distress
  • Suppression of the immune system under chronic stress leads to  the ‘general adaptation the syndrome’ which results in a generalised risk of greater susceptibility to illness and disease.
  • May also contribute to wide  range of medical, psychological and behavioural disorders,
  • Stress also has effects on the immune system. Chronic stress has the effect of “wearing down” the immune system, leading to an increased susceptibility to colds and other infections.
  • Scientific studies have also shown that stress can decrease the immune response to vaccinations and prolong wound healing.

Symptoms of Stress: Organizational syptoms

  • Increased sickness absence
  • Long hours culture
  • Increased staff turnover
  • Reduced staff performance
  • Reduced staff morale and loyalty
  • Increased hostility

Common External Causes of stress

  • Major life changes
  • Work related conflicts and issues
  • Relationship difficulties
  • Financial problems
  • Children and family
  • Personal health and safety


Common Internal causes of stress

  • Inability to accept uncertainity
  • Pessimism
  • Negative self talk
  • Unrealistic expectations
  • Perfectionism
  • Lack of assertiveness

NB: Internal factors determine the body’s ability to respond to, and deal with, the external stress-inducing factors. Internal factors, which influence one’s ability to handle stress include your nutritional status, overall health levels, emotional well-being, and the amount of rest and sleep one gets.

When stressful situations are not resolved and persist, the body is kept in a constant state of alertness and defensive action, resulting in damage and exhaustion.

As the immune system is weakened,  vulnerability to illness and diseases increase.

Short term symptoms include:

  • Headaches, muscular, chest pains, indigestion, palpitations, disturbed sleep and increased susceptibility to respiratory infections.
  • Irritability, anger, anxiety, burnout and restlessness

Long term Symtoms:

  • Anxiety attacks and depression
  • Heart disease,
  • Hypertension,
  • Ulcers,
  • Irritable bowel syndrome,
  • High cholesterol and
  • Increased risk of cancer, diabetes and asthma.


More often, psychological stress worsens the symptoms of almost every known medical condition. Examples of conditions in which stress may worsen the intensity of symptoms include cardiovascular diseases, asthma, multiple sclerosis, and depression.

Stress Management Tips

Progressive muscle relaxation

  • It is a technique for reducing stress and anxiety by alternately tensing and relaxing the muscles. It involves the tensing and relaxing of muscle groups all over the body.
  • With eyes closed, the individual places tension in a given muscle group purposefully for ten to twenty seconds before continuing to the next muscle group. This helps individual to relax and reduce their anxiety.

Positive Health Talk:

  • What are you feeding your mind with?
  • Learn to refute negative thoughts and to replace them with more positive ones.
  • With practice, you will gain awareness of detrimental thought  and learns to challenge and substitute them with positive thoughts.


  • Physical exercise helps to relax tensed muscles and manages emotional stress
  • Physical activity plays a key role in reducing and preventing the effects of stress.   

Avoid unnecessary stress

  • Not all stress can be avoided, however, learning to say “no” is critical while  distinguishing between “should” and “musts” on your to-do list
  • Dogmas like “must” should be used carefully

Think through the problem and explore different options

  • Focus on what is working
  • Keep reminding yourself that you cannot change what is beyond you (once you are sure that you can’t change the situation or the facts surrounding the issue)
  • Put your energy on what is working

Meanwhile continue to take care of emotional needs; also remember talk therapy. Research shows that talking about a challenge is healthy. However, one needs to find a confidant to share with or seek for counseling services.

Set aside relaxation time. Relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation, and deep breathing activate the body’s relaxation response, a state of restfulness that is the opposite of the stress response.

Eat a healthy diet. Well-nourished bodies are better prepared to cope with stress. Eating healthy will help you to better cope with a stressful situation.

Get plenty of sleep. Fatigue can increase one’s stress levels. It is therefore important to relax by getting enough sleep.

If not addressed, stress can lead to serious health problems and consequently affect day to day life. It is therefore important to apply the various techniques and secure quality of life.

I hope this will help some of you to understand and deal better with stressful events we all face!

Wish you all the best,

Julia Kugunda

Chief Psychologist Inuka


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