What Is Stress?

Photo by Christian Erfurt on Unsplash

Because modern life is full of challenges, deadlines, and demands, stress and anxiety have become a common part of many people’s everyday life. Of course, we all react differently to different types of stress: some people run in ‘emergency mode’ 24/7, while others experience stress only under pressure. Of course, we can’t completely eliminate stress from our lives, but we can try to relax and cope with routine hassles through various anti-stress activities. In order to find out the best stress-coping strategies, as well as proper ways to apply them, we need first to realize what is stress and what are the main causes of it. Thus, in this article, we are going to touch upon stress definition, illnesses related to this psychological condition, and other essential pieces of information.

Definition of Stress

Stress is an integral part of human physiology and is a normal physical response to various irritants and conditions. These can be problems in adaptation, perception, or emotional imbalance to name a few. Although stress is usually triggered by external factors, the source of the anxiety is internal and is located in the individual’s psyche.

‘Good’ Stress and ‘Bad’ Stress

Although stress is often considered to be a ‘bad’ condition, it is essential for normal body functioning and survival. In fact, stress is a great natural mechanism aimed to protect you: a small amount of stress helps you stay concentrated, watchful, and energetic. It also works as a great stimulus for a person’s motivation and thus can be beneficial for better performance. In emergency situations, stress can protect you and practically save your life by giving you additional strength and sharpening your senses.

What Is Stress Response?

When a person experiences stress, his or her body responds by activating the nervous system and releasing specific stress hormones into the bloodstream. The hypothalamus (one of the major glands that make up our endocrine system) sends signals to adrenal glands to produce and release adrenaline and cortisol hormones. These hormones make your heart beat faster, increase your breathing rate, blood pressure, and metabolism. The blood vessels dilate and provide large muscle groups with better blood supply, thus putting our bodies on alert. Pupils open wider to improve vision, and the liver releases more glucose (from its stores) to provide more energy. In order to cool the body, sweat is produced. All these physical processes prepare us to fight the stressor.

Stress Related Illnesses

Constant stressful conditions weaken our immune system thus leading to various conditions which at first glance, may have nothing to do with stress. Although it is hard to establish a link between stress and specific medical conditions, many researchers believe that the following diseases are stress-related:

  1. Insomnia. Because of anxiety, uncertainty, and unmanaged issues (related to the job, family, health, etc.) people may have problems with sleep. Insomnia is caused both by psychological and physiological factors (anxiety, uncertainty about the future; increased heart rate, and metabolism, respectively).
  2. Eating disorders. It is a common reaction for many people to lean on carbohydrate-laden foods when under stress. By eating sweets and other carbs-rich products people skyrocket their blood sugar and therefore feel a brief relief. However, the blood sugar level goes down soon, often leaving many people feeling worse than before.
  3. Depression. Unmanaged problems can make people feel hopeless and worthless. People under constant stress feel chronically sad, can’t think and react clearly, often feel unloved and alone. These conditions lead to stress-related depression.
  4. Panic attacks. Researches have proven that there is a cause-and-effect relationship between stress and anxiety bouts/panic attacks. This kind of reaction often occurs in people who are exposed to ongoing pressure and is manifested in nervousness and fear (often for an unknown reason).
  5. Colds. Stress makes people more susceptible to colds and viruses, as it affects the immune system.
  6. Cardiovascular issues. Due to the mechanism of stress response which implies the involvement of blood vessels, chronic stress can affect the normal vessels’ functioning (veins tightening, blood clots, bad circulation, and even strokes).
  7. Infections. It may sound odd, but mental and emotional disorders can cause a delay in healing even the simplest infections (bug bites, for instance). Stress can be also responsible for delays in healing systemic infections, like food poisoning.
  8. Cancer. Although there is no scientifically proven cause-and-effect relationship between stress and cancer, more and more studies show the links between these conditions. Stress drains the body’s energy and people have no strength to fight internal and external aggressors.

Newer treatment approaches to cancer and other serious illnesses include the same procedures and activities that are used to cope with stress.

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