With the big city environment many of us live in, so filled with hustle and bustle and constant noise and confusion, it’s hard to find a moment’s peace. Even smaller towns have been caught up in the rush, making sleepy towns turn into Bluetooth-wired miniature stress factories, and few people really take the time to slow down and enjoy life much of the time.

It’s no wonder that stress is on the rise, and many people report having felt stress at least a few times in the past week, let alone the year. Stress is a word often used without fully understanding the meaning, however; not all types of tension are necessarily caused by stress, and that feeling of being faced with a challenge can even be good at times.

Here are some of the most common questions about stress and how to relieve it.

1. What are some symptoms and signs of stress?

First, stress can be defined as the feeling of a challenge – the emotions that overcome you when you’re faced with something you haven’t been faced with before, either in the type of situation or the quantity of work, or in some other way. Even when you are facing routine tasks, stress can build up because you’re not sure whether you can handle the same as you always have.

The signs are fairly obvious and hard to ignore once you’re familiar with the emotion. Some people get sweaty palms, and others get “stomach butterflies” — a twisting, nervous feeling in the gut. Some people find it difficult to eat, while others tend to overeat as a coping mechanism.

If you feel like you’re not eating enough or eating too much, you have no control over your life or you have received complaints that you’re being a control freak, you can never remember anything, you have headaches and muscle tension, you’re well on the way to a self-diagnosis of stress. It’s common to get pain or aching in various parts of your body – some people have back problems, and others find the tension manifesting in their neck or shoulder muscles. You might simply feel like you have no energy or focus, be irritable, or have bad self-esteem.

All these things are signs of stress, though you don’t have to have all of them in order to consider yourself stressed. Over time, you will get to know your body’s unique ways of telling you that it’s under too much stress, and of telling you how much stress is enough or too much.
2. Just what causes stress?

There are many things that can cause stress, so it’s hard to have one general answer. Some people are stressed by being in crowds, and others are stressed by being alone. Some people get stressed in the workplace, while others are more stressed when giving childcare or in their personal lives.

Major upheavals in your life, including deaths or career changes, pregnancy, retirement, or anything else that somehow disrupts or alters your usual routine can cause stress. People who have gone through a lot in recent times are likely to be at a higher stress level than others.

Whenever you feel stress, it’s valuable to try figuring out where this stress is coming from and what’s causing it, so that you can help to change the situation or at least be aware that the situation is overwhelming so you can better cope.
3. Isn’t stress a good thing sometimes?

A little stress can be a fantastic motivator, and many employers count on this by imposing sales goals, forming teams to compete against one another, or otherwise putting people into situations where they are forced to perform and feel a little stress.

Sometimes, even a high level of stress can be beneficial. For instance, if you are always feeling stressed when in the presence of a particular individual, you may gradually become aware that they have a negative effect on you and take steps to reduce contact with them or eliminate them from your life.
4. How can I relieve any type of stress?

First, be aware of any major health changes or challenges you undergo. Everything from mental disorders such as depression to physical disorders like high blood pressure can be caused or at least affected by stress.

If you find yourself having an unusual number of illnesses and a poorly-functioning immune system, for instance, this is a warning sign from your body that you are undergoing too much stress and need to reduce it and relieve it immediately.

Once you’re aware that you need to relieve stress, the most immediate thing you can do is cope with it. When you feel that overwhelmed, anxious emotion sweeping over you, refuse to give in to the worrying and depression. Instead, take a deep breath and treat the situation rationally and logically, as if someone you didn’t know were asking for help or advice on coping. Take your own advice! Meditation, deep breathing, gentle exercise or massage of tense muscles, and regular exercise can help reduce stress on the spot.

A healthy lifestyle includes some “me time” devoted to activities you truly want to do and enjoy, so make sure you indulge in this. Also, get enough sleep on a regular basis, engage in physical activity, and avoid habit-forming activities such as drinking alcohol, smoking, or using drugs. Eating healthy may not be fun at first, but it will become a valuable part of a healthy lifestyle once you’re used to it.
5. How can I reduce the stress in my environment?

If you know where the stress is coming from, you can do a great deal to change this fact. Changing yourself is the easiest way to change your environment and those around you, so examine your own attitude. Do you have the attitude of a positive problem-solver, or do you always take the pessimistic and negative view? Do you properly manage your time and have a real understanding of what’s important enough to stress over and what isn’t? (Treating everything as important isn’t a real understanding!) Getting support from others can also reduce stress, particularly those going through the situation with you. Supporting each other will relieve both of your burdens.

Stress isn’t always fun to deal with, but a little of it can be a motivator and a positive force in your life. If there’s too much to be positive, take immediate action to change yourself and how the stress affects you, in order to maintain your happiness and health.