What is stress?
Stress is the body's reaction to challenging situations. It is our original flight or fight response when faced with a new experience. The body actually releases chemicals like adrenaline to help cope physically and emotionally. This causes the familiar reactions of a pounding heart, flushed face, sweating etc. Small amounts of stress are actually good since they help to protect us. We think more clearly to make a quick decision, are able to work faster to meet a deadline, push ourselves harder to accomplish a task. All of the body's systems work in a higher gear in a situation of stress. However when stress lingers day-in and day-out, when you are in constantly demanding situations, the body's systems are unable to function normally. In a state of chronic stress, the body feels that it is in a constant life-threatening situation and can no longer relax. Being in a constant state of alert soon causes the body's systems to break down.
Who can get affected by stress?
Just about anybody including babies can get affected by stress. Over 89% of people have reported experiencing serious stress in their lives. Over 65% of visits to family doctors are for stress-related symptoms.
What are the symptoms of stress?
We can all recognize the immediate symptoms of stress
- Pounding heart
- Fast breathing or difficulty breathing
- Mouth goes dry
- Muscle tightening especially those of the stomach
- Need to urinate
The long term effects of stress include:
- Heart disease and high blood pressure
- Autoimmune diseases such as arthritis
- Inability to focus
- Problems sleeping
- Digestive problems which can lead to chronic conditions such as IBS and Crohn's disease
- Loss of sexual drive
- Abuse of alcohol, cigarettes and drugs in an attempt to relax.
What causes stress?
Stress can be caused by internal and external factors. Stress is caused by large part on an individual's perception. For e.g. driving may not seem stressful to some but can be to others. Even positive situations such as getting married or starting college can be highly stressful. In fact any event that is perceived as a challenge can be stressful.
Other than external factors such as one's job or family demands, stress can also be caused
by internal factors such as unrealistic expectations, obsessing, negative self-talk.
Top Ten Stressful Life Events
Death of a close relative
Injury or illness
Fired from job
Source: Holmes-Rahe Life Stress Inventory