What is stress?
Stress is the feeling that an overwhelming sense of strain placed on you, whether physically, mentally or emotionally.  Stress is a very common and sometimes normal feeling.  When stressed, the body responds as though you are in danger, releasing a burst of energy, among other physical reactions.  While some stress can be useful and assist you with the fulfillment of important tasks, if endured too often or for long periods of time, stress can have very negative effects.  Types of stress vary and can stem from a number of different things.  Just as stress has different causal factors, it also has different effects in different people.  There are various techniques and habits that are useful for alleviating and avoiding stress.

Types of stress
Your stress level depends on how intense the stress is, how long it lasts and how you cope with the situation. The stress that a person is under can generally fall under one of three categories, depending on when and how it affects you and stress levels can vary under each category.

Acute or short-term stress is the body’s instant response to a high-pressure situation and usually affects the body immediately.  Such situations include preparing for a test or some sort of competition.  Acute stress, most of the time, alleviates quickly, allowing the body a speedy recovery.

Chronic or long-term stress accumulates over time due to demanding situations, such as having a difficult job or dealing with chronic disease.   Recovery from chronic stress may not occur as quickly as that from acute stress.

Post-Traumatic stress occurs after an individual experiences a traumatic event, such as some type of physical assault, war or a natural disaster.  People suffering from such stress may be diagnosed with acute stress disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Causes of stress
Many things can cause a person stress.  As mentioned, high-pressure and traumatic events, as well as long-term taxing situations are very common causes of different types of stress.  Areas of your personal and social life, along with job-related issues can be big stress-inducers, especially when you have many obligations in all three areas.

Dealing with health issues, internalized emotions, major life changes, strain within the family and conflicts with your beliefs and values are all personal problems that can cause a person stress.  Often times, people are handed unexpected or untimely responsibilities, such as having to care for a family member.  Such events can also lead to sudden feelings of stress and being overwhelmed.

For some people, it may be outside factors, as opposed to those within their personal lives that cause feelings of stress.  Living in a personally undesirable area, being unsatisfied or unhappy in your workplace or one’s societal experiences and interactions can wear down on a person and create lead to chronic stress.

Looking for ways to cope with and relieve stress? Find out more.

How to measure stress
Measuring your stress level or identifying the root of your stress is not always an easy task.  Life-changing events, such as deaths, births, marriages, divorces and job changes are examples of events that may be easier to identify as stress-inducing events.  Other times, the reason behind your stress may not be so evident.

It is important to figure out what causes stress for you so that you can learn to manage that situation the proper way. Keeping a stress journal may help. Keep a record of each time you feel stressed, how you reacted and what you did to deal with the stress. This can help you identify the root of your stress and exactly how much stress you feel.  In turn, you will be able to take the necessary steps to handle certain situations and you will also be able to manage your feelings of stress associated with those situations.

Effects of stress
The effects of stress – both physical and emotional – vary from person to person and depend on a variety of factors. No person, background or situation is the same. Consequently, your personality, your social support, what you have learned from your family regarding stress, how you think about and handle stress, and your coping strategies all play a role in how stress will affect you.

Physical Symptoms of Stress
Often times, individuals who are under stress can experience physical symptoms. Such symptoms include:

  • Accelerated heartbeat
  • Headache
  • Tension in the neck and shoulders
  • Back pain
  • Heavy/accelerated breathing
  • Cold Sweats and sweaty palms
  • Upset stomach and nausea

The effects of stress are not always immediately apparent as the above symptoms. Over time, stress can have more subtle effects on the body, such as worsening existing conditions and contributing to the development of new conditions.

The following conditions may be worsened by increased and constant stress:

  • Gastro esophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Peptic ulcer disease
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Ulcerative colitis
  • Asthma
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Acne and Psoriasis
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Reproductive function, including low fertility, erection problems, problems during pregnancy, and painful menstrual periods
  • Neck, shoulder, and low back pain
  • High blood pressure, arrhythmia, blood clots, and atherosclerosis
  • Heart conditions, including coronary artery disease, heart attack, and heart failure
  • Decreased function of the immune system

Emotional Symptoms of Stress
Stress can also alter the way you think, act and feel.

Individuals who are under stress may place too much worry and emphasis on things that would otherwise not seem as important and they may constantly worry about bad things happening. Stress can also lead to quick loss of temper, outbursts and difficulty with focus on given tasks. Feelings of frustration, anxiety, crankiness, constant tiredness, and the inability engage or cope with small problems can all be associated to the stress that a person may be experiencing.

To learn more about how stress can play a role in cognitive health, click here.