Stress – Symptoms and What to do About It

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2020 was a hard year for Danish CS:GO team, Astralis where several players were unable to compete due to stress. Stress is an ever increasing problem in esport. Even though there’s a greater focus on the problem from organizations and the teams, being a professional esport athlete is still very stressful, with those and many more are solid stress factors which, in the end, will make you sick if you´re unable to recognize the signs of stress and what to do about them. This article might help you.

In the later years stress has almost become a buzzword. Everyone is talking about it. The awareness of stress is great but the sad part is: even though we talk a lot about it, still more and more people end up getting sick with stress. This happens in esports as well. The focus of this article is stress, what it is and what to do about it.

Stress – What It Is

When people get too stressed, stress is “a prolonged and exhausting psychological and physical strain due to a pronounced discrepancy between the demands from our surroundings (or from ourselves) and our opportunities to fulfill them and for which the person is unable to adapt.” Quote from the Danish Psychological Pedagogical Dictionary. 

What this high flying sentence is trying to tell us: stress overload happens when a person has too many perceived demands vs what the person deems possible to actually do.

It’s very important to understand that stress is a natural part of being a human being. Stress is an innate emotion and bodily reaction which, through our evolution, has helped us survive in a very dangerous primordial world. That state of stress made it possible for us to perform extraordinarily for a limited period of time.

The state of stress begins in our most inner parts of our brain, what we know as the primordial brain, and is rooted in our drives known as aggression and fear. What makes human beings unique, from an evolutionary point of view, is that through the times we have been both prey and predator. That’s why we have some very powerful instincts buried in our fear and aggression drives, giving us a greater chance of survival.

Stress stemming from our aggression drive makes it possible to hunt and kill our prey (so we can eat), while stress stemming from our fear drive makes it possible to escape when hunted by the saber tooth tiger or other predators.

The above has been very helpful for humans through evolution, but today the problem is that modern society puts the brain in a hyperactive and vigilant state. Adding to the problem, we´re also born with the ability to worry. This makes an already explosive cocktail of ingredients even more explosive, as there´s hundreds and hundreds of things to worry about every minute of every day in a modern society. A way to look at it could be that we have moved from a fear of the outside world to an inner fear inside our heads, where the fear now lives almost full time a worries, very roughly speaking. We worry about everything and nothing. When we worry, it sets in motion a wide variety of strategies in all parts of our lives.

When we worry over extended periods of time, stress hormones enter our body – and this is where you should start to notice an emotional change and some changes in what you feel in your body.

Stress – What You Should Be Aware of

As previously mentioned, it’s not the bodily stress reaction that’s the main villain here. What is a problem, however, is that either we’re not aware of the signals the body is trying to send telling us that hey, you’re stressed or we’re simply ignoring those signals. Which is often accompanied with a thought: ”it will get better soon.” The primary reason we get sick with stress is because we end up ignoring the signals for too long and then the body simply shuts down.

In the coming paragraphs I will list the classification of stress I work from, including which signals you can expect from your body. Signals which are extremely important to be aware of and which you can use proactively. Because it is possible to do something before getting stressed, but it is up to you to take responsibility for your emotions and from what you feel in your body. The definition on the list is taken from a Danish book called “Mindre stress – mere overskud” (Less Stress – More Surplus) by Bjarne Toftegård.

Green stress: also known as everyday stress or acute stress. That kind of stress is known from what we experience in short bursts during the day. Examples of acute stress are: irritation, being nervous or intense moments towards the end of the round, you’re currently competing in.

Bodily reactions to be aware of: light shaking, sweating, palpitations, a dry mouth, unrest or anxiety, tenseness.

All reactions are temporary and the body will calm down again when the stressful situation is over.

Yellow stress: also known as persistent stress. This is where we are stressed for a period. You might have an exam, you might be moving, life changes or a tournament where you have something on the line.

Bodily reactions to be aware of: all reactions from green stress plus bad sleep, tiredness, unrest, thoughts, irritability, psychological enclosed, easier spells of crying, resistance and reluctance.

It’s important to get some rest if you’re here.

Red stress: also known as serious stress. This is where you end up if you have been persistently stressed for extended periods of time. This is where your system really starts to get overloaded. This typically happens when you have too many assignments, too much press or fan work or too many tournaments in a row in too many different countries and time zones.

Bodily reactions to be aware of: all the reactions from green and yellow stress are worsened. The reason they do that is to make us stop what we are doing. Furthermore we now begin to overperform, ponder and worry about everything, and start wondering if you are really any good at anything at all. Additionally we put unrealistically high demands on ourselves and an eternal hunt for recognition from our peers or outside world.

Symptoms: yes, you read the right. You’ll get other symptoms you need to be aware of now. Hopefully you’re now beginning to recognize you should have stopped a long time ago, right? Symptoms you’ll experience now are: memory failure, mental absence, it will be much harder to concentrate, inexplicable pains, aggressiveness, increased susceptibility to disease and unable to find the mental surplus to be with other people.

BLACK STRESS: also known as: total breakdown.

Bodily reactions to be aware of: you have been shut down. Full system failure. You don’t want to be in this condition. This is an extreme overload of your system and something that will affect you for the rest of your life. Furthermore, it will put a massive strain on your loved ones and environment as well. Stress from this part can and will in time lead to depression if you don’t get help.

Stress – What You Can Do About It

When you feel the bodily signs of stress or get the emotional stress response – the best and most imminent cure is rest. The longer you get down the stress checklist, the more important rest becomes and the harder it will be for you to get. Because the body is on full alert and your thoughts are running away with you, everything will be much harder to handle. What is even more important is that you need to take some time off from what is stressing you out, which in the beginning can be very stressful. I know, it’s a paradox. What you need to do is something that will recharge your mental and physical batteries. Rest, exercise (if you’re really stressed the exercise needs to be light), be in the company of people you love and care about. Be advised that extended use of “screens” prolong the stress healing process as the screen keeps the stress hormones active and makes it harder to sleep. Mindfulness, meditation and / or calming music will also help you relax.

If you´re reading this article, a good guess is that gaming to some degree is your hobby as well as your professional job. It’s not an easy combination, because many of our hobbies are chosen to help us relax. This relaxation point is void when hobby and job coincide. How you want the balance to be is up to you, but if you still want to play games as a hobby, my clear recommendation is that you play another game than the one that’s your job.

Stress – What You Can Do To Prevent It

Getting stressed is unavoidable. Stress is a part of being a human and as already mentioned our lives are full of stressors. But it’s up to you to not let the stress get out of hand like a runaway train.

You need to learn to point your attention to your body and what you feel. Your body will tell you what your status is. What you need to learn is to trust those signals and take them seriously. Consider your body signals as the damage indicator on your screen when playing a game. You take that one seriously, you react to those signals, and you need to learn to trust the signals your own body is sending you. If you have a hard time feeling your body, I recommend you´ll treat yourself to a massage and during those sessions concentrate on how that feels. There are other methods to learn to feel your body again, and I will get back to that subject at a later date..

You need to learn to react to your emotions. This is where it will get tough for many of you. The reason for this is that many of us have learned to suppress our emotions, especially those we consider bad. Those of us working in high intensity environments have at a minimum learned to somehow suppress our emotions for shorter or longer periods of time to be able to do the work we do. Your emotions, both good and bad, are there to tell you something about you, and you must learn to listen to that. This is where a qualified psychotherapist might come in handy.

You need to learn to work with your thoughts. This isn’t easy as our thoughts are often the very thing that “runs” away when you get really stressed. Another place where a qualified coach or psychotherapist can help you.

As a final remark it is important to stress that you need to seek help from a doctor if you end up getting sick with stress. If you´re unable to contact a doctor yourself, get someone to help you.