The stress response of the body is somewhat like an airplane readying for take-off. Virtually all systems (e.g., the heart and blood vessels, the immune system, the lungs, the digestive system, the sensory organs, and brain) are modified to meet the perceived danger.
Stress is an unavoidable consequence of life. As Hans Selye (who coined the term as it is currently used) noted, “Without stress, there would be no life”. Stress is not always necessarily harmful. Winning a race or election can be just stressful as losing, or more so, but may trigger very different biological responses. Increased stress results in increased productivity — up to a point. However, this level differs for each of us. It’s very much like the stress on a violin string. Not enough produces a dull, raspy sound. Too much tension makes a shrill, annoying noise or snaps the string. However, just the right degree can create a magnificent tone. Similarly, we all need to find the proper level of stress that allows us to perform optimally and make melodious music as we go through life.
Acute or Chronic Stress
Stressors can be defined as short-term (acute) or long-term (chronic).
Acute Stress. Acute stress is the reaction to an immediate threat. The threat can be any situation that is experienced, even subconsciously or falsely, as a danger.
Common acute stressors include: noise, crowding, isolation, hunger, danger, infection, occasional dead line, imagining a threat or remembering a dangerous event. Under most circumstances, once the acute threat has passed, the response becomes inactivated and levels of stress hormones return to normal, a condition called the relaxation response.
Chronic Stress. Frequently, however, modern life poses on-going stressful situations that are not short-lived. Stress, then, becomes chronic. Common chronic stressors include: on-going highly pressured work, long-term relationship problems, loneliness, continuous information overload and persistent financial worries. Chronic Stress can be especially damaging. An accumulation of persistent stressful situations, particularly those that a person cannot easily control (for example, high-pressured work plus an unhappy relationship) are most likely to produce negative physical effects.
- sleep disturbances
- back, shoulder or neck pain
- tension or migraine headaches
- difficulty in concentrating
- short temper
- upset or acid stomach, cramps, heartburn, gas, irritable bowel syndrome
- constipation, diarrhea
- weight gain or loss, eating disorders
- hair loss
- muscle tension
- high blood pressure
- asthma or shortness of breath
- chest pain
- sweaty palms or hands
- cold hands or feet
- skin problems (hives, eczema, psoriasis, tics, itching)
- periodontal disease, jaw pain
- reproductive problems
- immune system suppression: more colds, flu, infections
- growth inhibition
Physical symptoms can be caused by other illnesses, so it is important to have a medical doctor evaluate you and treat conditions such as ulcers, compressed disks, or other physical disorders. Remember, however, that the body and mind are not separate entities. The physical problems outlined above may result from or be exacerbated by stress.
While it is not possible to live without any stress, we can learn ways to handle the stress of daily life efficiently, and to manage our reactions to stress and minimize its negative impact.
The aim of stress management is to help you balance the various aspects of your life—your work, your relationships and your leisure—and to balance the physical, intellectual and emotional aspects of life. People who effectively manage stress consider life a challenge rather than a series of irritations, and they feel they have control over their lives, even in the face of setbacks.