What is Stress?
Stress! What does it mean to you? Relationship problems, financial difficulties, deadlines, commuting, raising a healthy, happy and productive child, or just plain housework. These are all demands on you, physically, emotionally and financially.
Stress is the tension you feel when there are more demands than you and your body can handle. These pressures may be from your work, relationships, home, or other responsibilities. Stress is like an out-of-balance scale-the pressures on one side of the scale outweigh the coping resources on the other.
Types of stress
This stress is a good stress and happens in pleasant or rewarding situations. This healthy stress can energize an athlete to win a competition. It can animate an actor to give a stirring performance. Stress may fire up a sales person for a speech that closes an important business deal.
This is the negative stress that most people talk about when they talk about stress. There are 2 different kinds of distress, Acute Stress and Chronic Stress. Acute stress is intense stress that appears after an event is over. For example, imagine you are pulled over by the police for a traffic violation. Your heart races, you sweat, your breathing gets faster. Chronic stress is a less intense stress than this, but it lasts for a longer period of time. For instance, imagine the pressure from a large credit card debt or the conflict from a bad relationship. You may notice headaches, difficulty sleeping, and mood swings. These physical changes take a toll on your health and well-being.
Either too much or too little stress can be harmful. Too much causes health and relationship problems. Too little can cause boredom, lack of performance, lack of productivity and carelessness. The key is finding the stress level that is ‘optimal’ for you.
What causes Stress?
Any demand you see as a problem or issue can cause you stress. These demands are called stressors. Most stressors fall into one of these categories:
- Social or Family: Major life events such as Marriage, divorce, children, retirement, or death.
- Occupational: Job-related problems like losing a job, changing jobs, promotions, demotions or deadlines.
- Educational: Pressures from attending school like homework and exams; getting accepted into the school of your choice or being liked and accepted by your peers.
- Health: Illness, health problems or pain.
- Financial: Money problems; chronic debt or inability to meet expenses.
- Environmental: External conditions such as hurricanes, poor air quality and pollution.
What does stress do to the body?
Stress causes your body to make physical and chemical changes. When you are under stress, your body’s first reactions are a rise in blood pressure, quicker breathing, increased perspiration, quicker heartbeat, and dilated (enlarged) pupils. All your senses go on high alert.
Physiological changes are part of the fight-or-flight response. This reaction is instinctive; it protects us from threats to our survival. Scientists believe that the fight-or-flight response is an ancient survival mechanism. It is probably left over from times when animals, including humans, were often threatened by physical dangers. In the fight reaction, the body gets ready to attack an intruder. The flight response probably is a reaction to fear, and the body gets ready to run away or hide.
In today’s world we are more likely to experience threats to our emotional and mental well-being than our physical safety. Still, the body reacts in the same way—it speeds up to produce energy and get ready to move. The body stays keyed up until the danger passes. Then it returns to a state of calmness. However, if high levels of stress continue, the body stays activated. During this activated process the body releases adrenalin and cortisol into the body. This gives the body energy and aggression to take whatever action is necessary for the situation at hand. This adrenalin and cortisol are released by the body naturally through physical activity or exertion. If the body is not able to perform this physical activity, the adrenalin and cortisol can build up in the body. This can cause a problem. When the body no longer has the energy to adapt, it becomes exhausted. This damages the body’s organs and can even eventually cause death.
Stress has been associated with many health problems. Some of these are high blood pressure, heart trouble, asthma, fatigue and muscle pain. If stress is not relieved, it can cause emotional problems as well such as anxiety or depression. Stress can also hurt your relationships with friends, family, and co-workers.
New research now shows that females may have a different way of coping with stress. Females seem to react with the tend-and-befriend response. In stressful situations, women tend the young and seek out support from others to deal with stress.
The hormone oxytocin is secreted by women and men as a response to stress. When oxytocin is combined with other female hormones, like estrogen, it works against stress. Oxytocin has a calming effect, reduces fear and decreases the physiological signs of stress in the fight-or-flight reaction. The tend-and-befriend response may have developed because women are the ones who usually are responsible for nurturing and caring for their offspring. Women are also more likely than men to look for support from others in all types of stressful situations, from work hassles to relationship problems. This does not mean that women are immune to stress, or that they never experience the fight-or-flight response. It does mean that women may respond to stress by reaching out to others.
Signs of stress
Major problems can be avoided if symptoms are identified early. You probably already know some of them—headaches, tense muscles, knotted stomach, and sweaty palms. Symptoms may also be psychological and interpersonal, like feeling moody, having trouble concentrating and loss of memory or arguing with others.
Some of the signs of serious problems are:
- Persistent, intense depression
- Frequent illness
- Chronic sleeping problems
- Mental Confusion
- Over-eating or persistent weight problems
- Outbursts of violence
- Sexual problems
- Persistent family conflict
- Excessive drinking or drug use
How a person deals with Stress is more important than the stress itself. Coping is what you do to deal with stress. Some major life events or demands are out of your control, but you can still take charge of how you react. A healthy lifestyle can help you prevent and manage stress. Using stress management practices in your life on a daily basis will keep you healthier and happier both physically and emotionally. Below are the lifestyle guidelines that will help you deal with you stress.
- Avoid Cigarettes. Cigarette smoking is the single most important preventable cause of illness and early death. People are more likely to smoke when they are under stress. The key to quitting is to find a healthy alternative to smoking. If you smoke because you are under stress, then find another outlet. The effects of smoking can be reversed. It is never too late to stop.
- Exercise Regularly. Regular exercise helps people of all ages look and feel better. Different types of exercise provide specific health benefits. The key to successful exercising is to find a physical activity that you enjoy. Whether it is walking, running, going to the gym or yoga—find out what works for your body and for your lifestyle and stick to it. You should work out at least 3 times per week for at least 30 minutes at a time.
- Eat Sensibly. A nutritious diet is essential for maintaining good health and proper weight. A balanced diet, especially one low in fat and sugar, helps to prevent stress. Also eating small frequent meals helps to keep your blood sugar stabilized and your energy and moods normal. An ideal daily food regiment would be to eat 5 meals a day consisting of low-fat sources of protein and good carbohydrates.
- Get Plenty of Rest. Restful sleep helps you to maintain health and cope better with problems. It is ideal to get 7-8 hours of restful sleep per night.
- Alcohol in moderation. Alcohol is frequently used to reduce stress because it has a relaxing effect. Regular, heavy use of alcohol leads to organ malfunction and disease. Drinking and driving often leads to fatal or crippling accidents. Use alcohol in moderation for social events and not for a solution to your problems.
- Avoid excessive caffeine. This is in many products such as coffee, tea, sodas and chocolate. It speeds up the body and can exaggerate the effects of stress.
- Get Regular Chiropractic Care: Regular Chiropractic treatment corrects and strengthens the spine with protects the nervous system. Your nervous system is the control center for your body. Having a healthy nervous system will allow you to fight off the effects of stress and aging. Remember, only the body can heal itself. Chiropractic allows your body to function at the highest level possible, therefore allowing you to live the longest, healthiest life.