What is stress?
Stress is the body’s response to a change in a situation. Our bodies try to adapt to these changes. However, constant stress of a prolonged period takes a toll on your body.
There are four basic types of stressors:
o Environmental stressors are the annoying things that you usually cannot control. A good example of this is the weather. Another example of an environmental stressor is traffic.
o Any change or adjustment having to do with your body is considered a physiological stressor. The best example of this is puberty. Stress can be the result of other changes in your body such as an illness, lack of sleep or exercise, and unhealthy eating habits.
o The way your mind reacts to changes in the environment or your body is called a psychological stressor. Walter B. Cannon, a researcher at Harvard University in the late 1800s first described the “flight or fight response” as the body’s way of preparing to deal with danger. A modern example of this is when you are crossing the street and a car is speeding toward you.
o Finally, we all must deal with social stressors in our lives: demanding bosses, controlling relatives, and too much work are a few things that can cause a lot of stress in life. The pressure from friends to do something you do not want to do can be intense. Other things like your parents getting divorced, a death in the family or financial problems can be long-term stressors.
- Another way to break down stress into different types are:
- Ordinary: waking up, getting to work
- Developmental: learning new things, taking on new challenges
- Unique: illness, family changes
Effects of Stress on Your Body
- Stress on the Brain
- Stress on the Gastrointestinal Tract
- Stress on the Glandular System
- Stress on the Cardiovascular System
- Stress on the Skin
- Stress on the Immune System
- Heart Disease
- Susceptibility to Infections
- Weight Problems
o Muscular and Joint Pain
- Sleep Disturbances
- Sexual and Reproductive Dysfunction:
o Sexual Function
o Premenstrual Syndrome
o Effects on Pregnancy
- Memory, Concentration, and Learning
Warning Signs of Stress
Stress is necessary to life and survival. It can be positive and beneficial (eustress) or it can be negative and detrimental (distress). Your body sends out physical, emotional, and behavioral warning signs of stress.
- Physical warning signs:
o Lower back pain, neck pain, chest pain
o Migraine headaches
o Premenstrual tension, abnormal menstrual cycles
o Feelings of weakness, dizziness, loss of reality
o Diarrhea, indigestion, stomach ailment, vomiting, constipation
o Trembling, nervous tics
o Frequent urination
o Loss of appetite, compulsive eating, weight gain or loss
o Stuttering and other speech difficulties
o Impotence, sexual difficulties
o Stooped posture
- Emotional warning signs:
o General irritability, hyper-excitation, or depression
o Floating anxiety, irrational fears
o Inability to concentrate, general disorientation
o Lowered self-esteem
o Frequent mood swings
- Behavioral warning signs:
o Tendency to be easily startled
o Problems with relationships
o Lack of enjoyment of life
o Impulsive behavior, emotional instability
o Neurotic behavior
o Accident-prone behavior
o Tooth grinding
o Excessive smoking
o Increased use of prescribed drugs
o Acting on impulse
o Alcohol dependency, drug addiction
o Withdrawing from relationships
o Changing jobs often
o Tension headaches
o Dry mouth
o Sleeping too much
o Sleeping too little
o Nervous activity
o Muscle tension
Is All Stress Bad?
- Not necessarily. A mild degree of stress and tension can sometimes be beneficial. Feeling mildly stressed when carrying out a project or assignment often compels us to do a good job and to work energetically. Likewise, exercising can produce a temporary stress on some body functions, but its health benefits are indisputable. It is only when stress is overwhelming, or poorly managed, that its negative effects appear.
Your Body’s Defense against Stress
- As your stress level begins to rise, the hypothalamus gland in your brain causes the pituitary gland to release the hormone ACTH.
- Just two seconds later, the adrenal gland releases non-adrenaline and adrenaline. Adrenaline gives your body more energy, causing your heart rate, body temperature and rate of carbohydrate consumption to increase.
- Next, the pituitary gland releases 17 more hormones, and you feel a surge of energy in only 8 seconds.
- The fuel for this instant energy is provided by the liver, which releases sugar into your bloodstream.
- Your bloodstream is then crowded with red blood cells, which carry more oxygen to your muscles.
- Now non-adrenaline, released with adrenaline from the adrenal gland, raises your blood pressure by constricting the artery walls.
- As you try to focus on the source of your stress, your attention narrows.
- In an attempt to relieve your stress, you pinpoint the immediate cause, which occupies all your thoughts for the moment.
- Your senses become excited and hypersensitive in order for you to combat the stress culprit.
- To keep the body from overheating, your perspiration increases.
- Your face becomes pale because the blood is forced away from your skin.
- In this state of alertness, your mouth stops producing saliva.
- To allow more light in, your pupils dilate, which gives you a heightened sense of awareness.
- Your muscles tighten up in preparation for intense use.
- Digestion stops temporarily so the blood can be used for your muscles and brain.
- Your body protects you from bleeding by rerouting your blood away from your skin. This causes your hands and feet to become cold.
- As your muscles tense up, defecation and urination cease. The opposite, diarrhea or unpreventable urination, can be a reaction to the stress as well.
- The immune system works below normal during the stressful period. You are more susceptible to illness at this time.
- The cure for these symptoms of stress is total relaxation, which allows your body to replenish its resources and resume normal operation.