At the most basic level, stress is our body’s response to pressures from a situation or life event. What contributes to stress can vary hugely from person to person and differs according to our social and economic circumstances. Some common features of things that can make us feel stress include experiencing something new or unexpected, something that threatens your feeling of self, or feeling you have little control over a situation.
Stress is more than just a headache or feeling tired or having high blood pressure. Stress is the feeling you get when you try to balance the demands of work with the never-ending needs of family. Stress is being stuck in a traffic jam when you were supposed to be at work a half hour earlier. Stress is balancing your check-book when the car needs repairs or the kids need new clothes and you’re already working two jobs. And stress is a trip to the dentist for a root canal, or forgetting your friend’s birthday, or being turned down for a job promotion that you know you deserve.
In short, stress is in your life everywhere you turn and it can affect you in very serious ways.
Stress is not all bad as long as you learn to control it and manage it. If you don’t have enough stress in your life you don’t feel motivated, you don’t feel stimulated. There’s no excitement. You don’t feel proud that you’ve overcome challenges or improved yourself.
However, too much stress and your body starts to complain. You feel anxious and pressured. Your stomach gets in knots and you can’t think clearly. Too much stress means that you have too many challenges in your life or the few challenges that you do have are so significant that you believe they cannot be overcome.
Somewhere between these extremes, in a place between too little stress and too much stress, is an amount of stress that is healthy, motivating, and stimulating. That’s the level of stress you want to achieve and that’s the level of stress that you can achieve when you learn the strategies that are presented in the articles in this section.
When we encounter stress, our body is stimulated to produce stress hormones that trigger a ‘flight or fight’ response and activate our immune system. This response helps us to respond quickly to dangerous situations.
Sometimes, this stress response can be an appropriate, or even beneficial reaction. The resulting feeling of ‘pressure’ can help us to push through situations that can be nerve-wracking or intense, like running a marathon, or giving a speech to a large crowd. We can quickly return to a resting state without any negative effects on our health if what is stressing us is short-lived. Many people are able to deal with a certain level of stress without any lasting effects.
However, there can be times when stress becomes excessive and too much to deal with. If our stress response is activated repeatedly, or it persists over time, the effects can result in wear and tear on the body and can cause us to feel permanently in a state of ‘fight or flight’. Rather than helping us push through, this pressure can make us feel overwhelmed or unable to cope.
Feeling this overwhelming stress for a long period of time is often called chronic, or long-term stress, and it can impact on both physical and mental health.
Some things that may help:
- share your problems with family or friends
- make more time for your interests and hobbies
- take a break or holiday
- take some regular exercise and make sure you’re eating healthily
- make sure you’re getting enough sleep
- try mindfulness
- use calming breathing exercises
- download an app designed to help with stress and anxiety
References and more information
- Baum, A. (1990). “Stress, Intrusive Imagery, and Chronic Distress,” Health Psychology, Vol. 6, pp. 653-675.
- Anderson, N.B. (1998). “Levels of Analysis in Health Science: A Framework for Integrating Sociobehavioral and Biomedical Research,” Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, Vol. 840, pp. 563-576.
- Dallman, M. et al. (2003). “Chronic stress and obesity: A new view of ‘comfort food.’” PNAS, Vol. 100, pp. 11696-11701.
- Anderson, N.B. & Anderson, P.E. (2003). Emotional Longevity: what really determines how long you live. New York: Viking.
- Sinha, R. (2008). “Chronic Stress, Drug Use, and Vulnerability to Addiction.” Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, Vol. 1141, pp. 105-130.
- Vgontzas, A.N. et al. (1997). “Chronic insomnia and activity of the stress system: a preliminary study.” Journal of Psychosomatic R
esearch, Vol. 45, pp. 21-31.
- Fox, K.R. (1999). “The influence of physical activity on mental well-being.” Public Health Nutrition, Vol. 2, pp. 411-418.