Stress is the feeling of being under too much mental or emotional pressure.
Pressure turns into stress when you feel that you are in a situation where you are powerless and unable to cope. People have different ways of reacting to stress, so a situation that feels stressful to one person may be motivating to someone else.
Many of life’s demands can cause stress, particularly work, relationships and money problems. And, when you feel stressed, it can get in the way of sorting out these demands, or can even affect everything you do.
Stress can affect how you feel, think, behave and how your body works. In fact, common signs of stress include sleeping problems, sweating, loss of appetite and difficulty concentrating.
You may feel anxious, irritable or low in self esteem, and you may have racing thoughts, worry constantly or go over things in your head. You may notice that you lose your temper more easily, drink more or act unreasonably.
You may also experience headaches, muscle tension or pain, or dizziness.
Stress is your body’s way of responding to any kind of demand or threat. Stress causes a surge of hormones in your body. These stress hormones are released to enable you to deal with pressures or threats – the so-called "fight or flight" response. When you feel threatened, your nervous system responds by releasing a flood of stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol, which rouse the body for emergency action, such that your:
These physical changes increase your strength and stamina, speed your reaction time, and enhance your focus. This is known as the “fight or flight” or mobilisation stress response and is your body’s way of protecting you.
So when you need (or think you need) to defend yourself or run away from danger, your body prepares for mobilization, and your nervous system rouses for emergency action—preparing you to either fight or flee from the danger at hand.
If mobilisation fails, the body freezes instead, a response known as immobilization. In extreme, life-threatening situations, you may even lose consciousness, enabling you to survive high levels of physical pain. This can leave you traumatized or unable to move on.
Once the pressure or threat has passed, your stress hormone levels will usually return to normal. However, if you're constantly under stress, and in a situation where you are unable to 'fight or flight', these hormones will remain in your body, leading to the symptoms of stress.
When stress is within your comfort zone, it can help you to stay focused, energetic, and alert. In emergency situations, stress can save your life—giving you extra strength to defend yourself, for example, or spurring you to slam on the brakes to avoid an accident.
Stress can also help you rise to meet challenges. It is what keeps you on your toes during a presentation at work, sharpens your concentration when you’re attempting the game-winning free throw, or drives you to study for an exam when you'd rather be watching TV.
But when your level of stress exceeds your own individual comfort zone, stress stops being helpful and its effects can start causing major damage to your mind and body.
The factors that cause stress are known as stressors. We usually think of stressors as being negative, such as an exhausting work schedule or a rocky relationship. However, anything that puts high demands on you can be stressful. This includes positive events such as getting married, buying a house, going to college, or receiving a promotion.
Of course, not all stress is caused by external factors. Stress can also be internal or self-generated, when you worry excessively about something that may or may not happen, or have irrational, pessimistic thoughts about life.
Common external causes of stress
Common internal causes of stress
The body’s nervous system often does a poor job of distinguishing between daily stressors and life-threatening events. If you’re stressed over an argument with a friend, a traffic jam on your commute, or a mountain of bills, for example, your body can still react as if you’re facing a life-or-death situation.
When you repeatedly experience the mobilisation or fight-or-flight stress response in your daily life, it can lead to serious health problems.
Chronic (i.e. recurring or long-term) stress disrupts nearly every system in your body. It can shut down your immune system, upset your digestive and reproductive systems, raise blood pressure, increase the risk of heart attack and stroke, speed up the aging process and leave you vulnerable to many mental and physical health problems.
Health problems caused or exacerbated by stress include:
The following table lists some of the common warning signs and symptoms of chronic stress. The more signs and symptoms you notice in yourself, the closer you may be to stress overload:
One approach to dealing with stress, might be to focus on removing the external sources of stress, the stressors, such as:
However in many cases, it may be very difficut, or impossible, or simply unwise, to remove the stressors. For example, advising a stressed out highly paid business executive that he needs to resign from his well paid job might well create far more stress for him when he finds he is faced with the challenge of trying to continue his existing lifestyle whilst on a greatly reduced income.
Many of the symptoms created by stress are identical to those symptoms associated with anxiety disorder, and with increasing levels of stress many of the symptoms of stress will become worse in severity, in terms of:
Therapy can treat the underlying anxiety disorder so that the person will change such that they develop a new 'psychological stress resilience' such that they now improve their ability to successfully adapt to life tasks in the face of social disadvantage or highly adverse conditions, such as family or relationship problems, health problems, or workplace and financial worries, among others.
Hypnosis, Hypnotherapy Psychotherapy and Counselling can be used in combination to successfully help people cope with stress with confidence.
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Select here for some additional background Articles about Stress.
Suceptibility to stress may be made worse by an underlying anxiety disorder. Six major anxiety disorders have been formally identified, each with their own distinct symptom profile. You can read more about the other anxiety disorders here:
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