Stress is a natural part of life. These days there are very few who don’t get stressed over money, the economy, the housing market, jobs or even family. Our bodies naturally react to stress through blood pressure, heart rate, respiration, body temperature and muscle contractions. Everyone deals with stress on different levels and in different ways. However, if one is not able to deal with stress it can ultimately lead to mental and physical exhaustion.
It wasn’t until the 1930’s that the word stress was used to characterize a condition where a stressor causes stimulus. Hans Selye, an endocrinologist, witnessed an inappropriate physiological response to demand placed on a human or animal. Before coining the term stress was considered a normal part of daily function and encounters that results in strain. Now, we know that stress plays an important part in physical, emotional and mental well being.
Stress is defined as a failure to respond appropriately to emotional or physical threats whether they are real or imagined. The signs of stress are easily recognizable and can present themselves as cognitive, behavioral, emotional or physical symptoms. Therefore when presented with stress one’s whole demeanor, attitude and presence can change. Cognitive, emotional and behavioral symptoms include poor judgment, negative outlook, anxiety, worrying, moodiness, irritability, agitation, inability to relax, loneliness, isolation, depression, lack of concentration and absentmindedness. Physical symptoms include increased heart rate, breathing, energy, blood pressure, cholesterol and production of sweat. Stress can also cause physical symptoms of aches and pain, diarrhea, constipation, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, chest pain, upset stomach and headache. Chronic stress that occurs over a longer period of time consistently can cause both physical and psychological damage to a person. Long-term stress depresses the immune system leaving it susceptible to infections, disease, and illness. Stress promotes the accumulation of visceral fat, which is a leading cause of obesity. Additional chronic stress has been connected to ulcers, cancer, heart disease, increased outbreaks of psoriasis, depression and diabetes. In children who experience chronic stress a stunt to developmental growth is normally seen.
Stress is normally given a bad connotation, which implies it is negative. However, most people forget or don’t mention good stress. When Hans Selye discovered stress, he studied all types of stress and realized that stress even when its good is still a stress nonetheless. He developed eustress or good stress and distress or bad stress. Eustress is a condition that enhances ones physical or mental function such as exercise, marriage, having a baby or a promotion. Where as, distress is persistent stress that is not resolved through coping or adaptation, which can lead to symptoms of withdrawal or anxiety. The difference between good and bad stress is based upon one’s past experiences, personal expectations, and the resources to cope with stress.
Coping with stress is not an easy task. Everyone adapts to stress differently and some people have an easier time dealing with stress than others. The way that the body reacts to a stressor is understood through the General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS), which describes the effects of stress on the body. Depending upon the intensity and duration of the stressor will determine if the stress is acute-short term or chronic-long term. At the first sign of stress the bodies stress response is in a state of alarm. The body reacts by producing adrenaline which causes a fight or flight response. Fight or flight is the body’s way of preparing to fight (cope, adapt) or flee. The second stage is the resistance to stress. If a stressor persists the body must find a means of coping with the stress. Does the body have a way to adapt to the strain or demands of the surrounding environment? As we cope with stress, the body’s resources (nutrients, enzymes, proteins, amino acids, vitamins, minerals) are gradually depleted. The final stage is exhaustion where the body’s resources are completely used up, leading to inability to function normally. Weakness, fatigue decreased energy, inability to concentrate or think clearly are all signs of exhaustion. Long-term exhaustion can be detrimental to ones health and can manifest disease. Although, these stages represent a model of how stress affects the body, stress can manifest itself differently in every person.
No two people will respond to the exact same stressor in the exact same way. Life experience and social background play a role in determining ones ability to cope with stress. Normal responses to stress include adaptation, coping, anxiety and depression. Coping mechanisms include stress management. Stress management provides individuals with techniques to handle stress on a daily basis. Learning to cope with stress will help you live a happier, healthier life.