What is Stress?
The Oxford Dictionary defines stress as, “A state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances.” But it must be noted that stress factors are subjective and what one person may find stressful, others may not necessarily experience as negatively.
So stress is caused by two things:
- Primarily it is down to whether you think situations around you are worthy of anxiety.
- And then it's down to how your body reacts to your thought processes.
Stress happens when we feel that we can't cope with pressure and this pressure comes in many shapes and forms, and triggers physiological responses. These changes are best described as the fight or flight response, a hard-wired reaction to perceived threats to our survival.
The fight or flight response was first noted by one of the early pioneers in stress research, Walter Cannon. In 1932 he established that when an organism experiences a shock or perceives a threat, it quickly releases hormones that help it to survive.
- In humans, as in other animals, these hormones help us to run faster and fight harder.
- They increase heart rate and blood pressure - delivering more oxygen and blood sugar to power important muscles.
- They increase sweating in an effort to cool these muscles, and help them stay efficient. They divert blood away from the skin to the core of our bodies - reducing blood loss if we are damaged.
- They focus our attention on the threat, to the exclusion of everything else.
- Breathing is accelerated to supply more oxygen for conversion to energy.
- The heart moves into overdrive to supply the body with more oxygen and nutrients.
- Our immune system is activated, ready to administer to wounds. Attention and sight become acute and highly focused and our sense of pain is diminished as the body releases analgesic hormones.
At this point we are fully prepared for a flight or fight reaction and, our body will expend an immense amount of energy to deal with the perceived stressor.
The problem is, the more often we are exposed to these types of stressors, the more overactive our fight or flight response becomes. Until we find ourselves operating at fever pitch level, constantly prepared for battle, perceiving potential threats everywhere.
“Its not stress that kills us, it is our
reaction to it.”
- Hans Selye
It's important to learn how to recognize when your stress levels are out of control. The most dangerous thing about stress is how easily it can creep up on you. You get used to it. It starts to feel familiar, even normal. You don't notice how much it's affecting you, even as it takes a heavy toll.
The signs and symptoms of stress overload can be almost anything. Stress affects the mind, body, and behavior in many ways, and everyone experiences stress differently.
The following table lists some of the common warning signs and symptoms of stress.
Note: Keep in mind that the signs and symptoms of stress can also be caused by other psychological or medical problems. If you’re experiencing any of the warning signs of stress, it’s important to see a doctor for a full evaluation. Your doctor can help you determine whether or not your symptoms are stress-related.
The Effects of Stress
Stress is a normal part of life. Many events that happen to you and around you -- and many things that you do yourself -- put stress on your body. You can experience stress from your environment, your body, and your thoughts.
The human body is designed to experience stress and react to it. Stress can be positive, keeping us alert and ready to avoid danger. This good stress is called eustress.
Stress becomes negative when a person faces continuous challenges without relief or relaxation between challenges. As a result, the person becomes overworked and stress-related tension builds.
Stress that continues without relief can lead to a condition called distress -- a negative stress reaction. Distress can lead to physical symptoms including headaches, stomach ailments, elevated blood pressure, chest pain, cardiovascular stress and problems sleeping. Research suggests that stress also can bring on or worsen certain symptoms or diseases.
Stress also becomes harmful when people use alcohol, tobacco, or drugs to try to relieve their stress. Unfortunately, instead of relieving the stress and returning the body to a relaxed state, these substances tend to keep the body in a stressed state and cause more problems.
How to Manage Stress Using the Best Stress Management Techniques
While unmanaged stress is undeniably damaging, you have more control over your stress levels than you might think. Unfortunately, many people cope with stress in ways that only compound the problem. You might drink too much to unwind at the end of a stressful day, fill up on comfort food, zone out in front of the TV or computer for hours or use pills to relax. However, there are many healthier ways to cope with stress and its symptoms.
Managing stress is all about taking charge - taking charge of:
- Your thoughts,
- Your emotions,
- Your schedule,
- Your environment, and,
- The way you deal with problems.
The best stress management techniques include:
- Taking measures to avoid unnecessary stress,
- Effectively managing your time,
- Following a healthy diet,
- Exercising regularly,
- Recharging your mind using mindfulness techniques.
Don’t let stress hijack your life. Find out how you can start using these techniques today. Get your free guide to the Best Stress Management Techniques here.
Do you have any questions, comments or tips for managing stress? help the rest of us out by sharing in the comments below.
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