What Is Stress?
Stress can be defined as a response of the body to any demand placed on it. Stress can be influenced by both external and internal factors. Examples of external factors include work, relationships, and finances. Internal factors such as health, nutritional status, and amount of sleep can affect how people deal with situations in which they might otherwise have dealt competently.
How Common Is It?
Stress is a normal human experience and can be useful when dealing with demanding situations. For example, it can help us perform optimally when giving a speech or playing a sport, as seen by the following curve:
What Causes Stress?
Genetic factors may influence how people respond to stress. Abnormalities in serotonin regulation have been shown to be associated with heightened reactivity of heart rates and blood pressure in response to stress. It is also theorized that abuse or neglect in the early stages of development may cause long-term abnormalities in the systems that regulate stress.
Certain life situations are more likely to predispose a person to experience stress. For example surveys have found that mothers who worked full time had the highest stress levels in the populations surveyed. Other situations that can lead to stress are financial pressures, unemployment, work stress, lower education, social isolation, conflict, personal/family illness, and relationship problems.
People experience events in different ways. For example, the loss of a job may be viewed as a disaster that affects feelings and behaviour. Alternatively, it may be viewed as an opportunity to move on to something better. The manner in which this event is viewed explains the different responses that people have to the same event. Other factors such as personality and previous experience also influence how the event is perceived. Another factor that leads to stress is a mismatch between the experience and the resources available to cope with it. Losing a job, for example, might be a difficult event, but if you are having difficulties with a relationship in addition to this, then you might not have the support to get through a difficult period, emotionally and financially.
What Are The Effects Of Stress?
The body deals with acute stress by releasing chemicals that tell the body that it is in danger, and therefore activates the flight or fight response. This response is a survival mechanism that prepares the body to face danger. Changes seen during this response include increased heart rate, rapid breathing, dry mouth and sweating. This response does not have any long-term effects on the body, and often can help in dealing with stressors. Stress, in many instances, can be useful, and help the person deal with the demands placed on them, by making them more alert, energised, and attuned to external cues.
However, long term exposure to stress, and the exposure of the body to high levels of hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline, can lead to increased vulnerability to illnesses, such as depression, obesity, heart disease, etc.
What Are The Signs And Symptoms Of Stress?
The symptoms of stress can vary between different individuals. The most common symptoms are:
• Sleep disturbances
• Muscle tension
• Lack of motivation
• Difficulty concentrating
• Change in eating habits
• Increased use of alcohol or other drugs
• Unhealthy eating and decreased level of exercise
These symptoms, in turn, affect how you deal with the events that cause stress, thereby worsening the stress.
How Can We Manage Stress?
You can learn to manage stress by using various techniques, such as monitoring and challenging the way you think about events, slow breathing, and solving your problems in a structured manner. In addition to this exercising, cutting down on drug and alcohol use, and doing things you enjoy can help in coping with stress.
In cases where severe stress leads to depression or anxiety, medications such as benzodiazepines or antidepressants might have a role to play. It would be best to consult your local doctor in such cases, as they will be able to advise you on the suitability of medication, or to direct you to an appropriate professional.