Why stress happens and how to manage it
Why stress happens and how to manage it
Fast facts on stress:Here are some key points about stress. More detail is in the main article.
Stress helps the body prepare to face danger.
The symptoms can be both physical and psychological.
Short-term stress can be helpful, but long-term stress is linked to various health conditions.
We can prepare for stress by learning some self-management tips.
What is stress?
Stress is the body's natural defense against predators and danger. It flushes the body with hormones to prepare systems to evade or confront danger. This is known as the "fight-or-flight" mechanism.
When we are faced with a challenge, part of our response is physical. The body activates resources to protect us by preparing us either to stay and fight or to get away as fast as possible.
The body produces larger quantities of the chemicals cortisol, adrenaline, and noradrenaline. These trigger an increased heart rate, heightened muscle preparedness, sweating, and alertness. All these factors improve the ability to respond to a hazardous or challenging situation.
Factors of the environment that trigger this reaction are called stressors. Examples include noises, aggressive behavior, a speeding car, scary moments in movies, or even going out on a first date. The more stressors we experience, the more stressed we tend to feel.
Changes to the body
Stress slows normal bodily functions, such as the digestive and immune systems. All resources can then be concentrated on rapid breathing, blood flow, alertness, and muscle use.
The body changes in the following ways during stress:
- blood pressure and pulse rate rise
- breathing is faster
- the digestive system slows down
- immune activity decreases
- the muscles become tense
- a heightened state of alertness prevents sleep
Types of stress
This type of stress is short-term and is the most common way that stress occurs. Acute stress is often caused by thinking about the pressures of events that have recently occurred, or upcoming demands in the near future.
Episodic acute stress
People who frequently experience acute stress, or whose lives present frequent triggers of stress, have episodic acute stress.
This is the most harmful type of stress and grinds away over a long period.
Ongoing poverty, a dysfunctional family, or an unhappy marriage can cause chronic stress. It occurs when a person never sees an escape from the cause of stress and stops seeking solutions. Sometimes, it can be caused by a traumatic experience early in life.
We all react differently to stressful situations. What is stressful to one person may not be stressful to another. Almost anything can cause stress. For some people, just thinking about something or several small things can cause stress.
Common major life events that can trigger stress include:
job issues or retirement
lack of time or money
relationships, marriage, and divorce
The physical effects of stress include:
pain in the back or chest
cramps or muscle spasms
erectile dysfunction and loss of libido
high blood pressure
lower immunity against diseases
pins and needles
Emotional reactions can include:
a feeling of insecurity
Behaviors linked to stress include:
food cravings and eating too much or too little
sudden angry outbursts
drug and alcohol abuse
higher tobacco consumption
A doctor will normally diagnose stress by asking the patient about symptoms and life events.
Diagnosis is complex. It depends on many factors. Questionnaires, biochemical measures, and physiological techniques have been used, but these may not be objective or effective.
The most direct way to diagnose stress and its effects on a person is through a comprehensive, stress-oriented, face-to-face interview.
Treatment includes self-help and, in instances where the stress is caused by an underlying condition, certain medications.
Therapies that may help to induce relaxation include aromatherapy or reflexology.
Some insurance providers cover this type of treatment, but be sure to check before pursuing this treatment.
Doctors will not usually prescribe medications for coping with stress, unless the patient has an underlying illness, such as depression or a type of anxiety.
In that case, the doctor is treating a mental illness and not the stress.
In such cases, an antidepressant may be prescribed. However, there is a risk that the medication will only mask the stress, rather than help you deal and cope with it. Antidepressants can also have adverse effects.
Developing some coping strategies before stress hits can help an individual manage new situations and maintain physical and mental health. If you are already experiencing overwhelming stress, seek medical help.
Stress management techniques
Stress management can help to:
remove or change the source of stress
alter the way you view a stressful event
lower the impact that stress might have on your body
learn alternative ways of coping