Last updated date: 23-Mar-2023
Originally Written in English
Stress is defined as any inherent or exogenous stimulus that causes a biological reaction. Stress reactions are the compensating responses to various pressures. Stress may cause a variety of impacts on the body, ranging from changes in homeostasis to life-threatening effects and death, depending on the nature, timing, and degree of the given stimuli.
Stressors have a significant impact on our mood, feeling of well-being, behavior, and health. Acute stress responses in young, healthy people may be adaptive and do not usually have a negative impact on their health. However, if the danger is constant, especially in elderly or sick people, the long-term impacts of stresses can be detrimental to health.
Definition of stress
Life is basically dependent on sustaining a consistent internal milieu in the face of a changing world. This is referred to as "equilibrium," and the term "stress" refers to the impacts of anything that jeopardizes homeostasis significantly.
A "stressor" is an actual or perceived threat to an organism, and the "stress response" is the organism's reaction to the stressor. Despite the fact that stress reactions evolved as adaptive mechanisms, Selye observed that severe, persistent stress responses might result in tissue damage and sickness.
Our central nervous system (CNS) provides synchronized coping responses rather than distinct, individual reaction modifications. As a result, when immediate fight-or-flight appears to be a viable option, animals tend to demonstrate increased autonomic and hormonal activity, maximizing the potential for muscular effort.
When an active coping response is absent, animals may participate in a vigilance response, which involves SNS activity, active inhibition of movement, and blood shunting away from the periphery.
The kind, frequency, and length of stressors, as well as the individual's biological sensitivity (i.e., genetics, constitutional characteristics), psychological resources, and acquired coping techniques, all have an impact on the relationship between psychosocial stress and illness. Psychosocial treatments have been demonstrated to be useful in the treatment of stress-related disorders and may influence the progression of chronic diseases.
Various pathophysiological consequences of illness are caused by stress, and persons exposed to stress, such as those who work or live in stressful circumstances, are more likely to develop many ailments. Many illnesses and pathological states can be triggered or aggravated by stress. We evaluated some of the key consequences of stress on the primary physiological systems of humans in this study.
Although different conditions evoke diverse patterns of stress responses, individual variances in stress responses to the same event exist. The propensity to demonstrate a consistent pattern of stress reactions in the face of a range of stressors is known as "response stereotypy." Across a range of contexts, some people exhibit stress responses associated with active coping, whereas others exhibit stress responses associated with aversive vigilance.
What makes us stressed?
Stressors are the conditions and pressures that produce stress. We normally associate pressures with the unpleasant, such as a demanding job schedule or a tumultuous relationship. Anything that places significant demands on you, on the other hand, might be stressful. This includes happy events like getting married, purchasing a house, going to college, or being promoted.
Of course, not all stress is brought on by outside circumstances. Internal or self-generated stress occurs when you worry excessively about something that may or may not happen, or when you have unreasonable, gloomy beliefs about life.
Finally, what generates stress is determined, at least in part, by how you perceive it. Something that stresses you out may not bother someone else; in fact, they may like it. While some of us are scared of standing in front of a crowd to perform or talk, others thrive in the spotlight. Whereas one individual thrives under strain and performs best under duress, another will shut down as job expectations increase. While you may appreciate assisting in the care of your aging parents, your siblings may find the responsibilities of caregiving onerous and distressing.
Stress and cortisol
As the main stress hormone, cortisol plays an essential role in stressful situations. Among its functions are:
- Increasing the quantity of glucose in your blood
- Increasing the brain's ability to utilise glucose more effectively
- Increasing the availability of chemicals that aid in tissue healing
- In a life-threatening scenario, restraining non-essential functions
- Changing the immune system response
- The reproductive system and the development process are being harmed.
- Affecting brain regions that govern fear, motivation, and mood
All this helps you deal more effectively with a high-stress situation. It’s a normal process and crucial to human survival.
But if your cortisol levels stay high for too long, it has a negative impact on your health. It can contribute to:
- Weight gain
- High blood pressure
- Sleep problems
- Lack of energy
- Type 2 diabetes
- Mental cloudiness (brain fog) and memory problems
- A weakened immune system, leaving you more vulnerable to infections
Types of stress
There are several types of stress, including:
Everyone experiences acute stress. It is the body's first response to a new and difficult environment. It's the type of anxiety you could have if you narrowly avoid a vehicle collision.
Acute stress might also result from doing something you like. It's the somewhat terrifying, yet exciting sensation you get while riding a roller coaster or skiing down a high mountain slope.
These brief bouts of intense stress are usually harmless. They could even be beneficial to your health. Difficult experiences train your body and brain to respond in the greatest way possible in future stressful situations.
When the threat has passed, your body's systems should return to normal. A distinct tale is told in the case of severe acute stress. This type of stress, such as when confronted with a potentially life-threatening circumstance, can result in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or other mental health issues.
Episodic acute stress
When you have many periods of acute stress, this is referred to as episodic acute stress.
This may occur if you are frequently apprehensive and concerned about events that you believe may occur. You may believe that your life is chaotic and that you appear to be going from one catastrophe to the next.
Certain occupations, such as police enforcement or firemen, may also expose you to high-stress circumstances on a regular basis.
As with severe acute stress, episodic acute stress can have an impact on your physical and mental health.
Chronic stress occurs when you experience elevated stress levels over a lengthy period of time. Long-term stress like this might be harmful to your health. It might help with:
- Cardiovascular disease
- High blood pressure
- A weakened immune system
Who is affected by stress?
Some of the sentiments mentioned above are likely to be familiar to all of us. Some people appear to be more sensitive to stress than others. Getting out the door on time each morning may be a highly stressful experience for some individuals, but others may be less influenced by a large lot of pressure.
Some people are more prone than others to be exposed to stressful events. As an example:
- People who have a lot of debt or are financially insecure are more prone to be worried about money.
- People from minority ethnic groups or who identify as LGBTIQ+ are more likely to experience stress as a result of prejudice or discrimination.
- People with impairments or chronic health disorders are more likely to be concerned about their health or the stigma connected with their condition.
Stress and Resilience
The physical and psychological effects of stress, as well as the following reaction of an individual who fails to adapt to or display resilience in the face of a specific stressor, remain fertile areas of scientific investigation. Stress is the result of a physical, physiological, or emotional stimulus (a stressor) that forces the body to adapt or suffer physical or mental strain or tension.
If stress is caused by a failure to adjust to stimuli, it may have a role in disease development. Stress has been shown in preclinical investigations to cause long-term alterations in a variety of neurochemical systems. The ability to recover from a stressful event is referred to as resilience. Resilience is described genetically as the trait that prevents individuals who are genetically predisposed to maladaptation and psychopathology from being influenced by these difficulties.
Individuals' susceptibility to stress and capability for resilience and/or recovery are complex, reflecting their biological condition as well as genetic and environmental risk or resilience variables. More research is needed to determine the role of stress in the onset and progression of depression and anxiety. New technologies, such as neuroimaging and genomics, may help us better understand the role that stresses play in the onset of disease or the worsening of symptoms associated with depression and anxiety.
Due to terrorism, war, divorce, and unemployment, psychological stress has become increasingly prominent in scholarly works as well as popular media such as the internet, newspapers, and television. Psychological stress, which evolved as an adaptation to the fight-or-flight response, may elicit a constellation of physiological responses (including neurological, endocrine, and immunological systems) that would otherwise be deleterious under certain situations.
According to studies conducted over the last 40 years, hyperactivity of the HPA axis is one of the most prevalent neurobiological abnormalities in depressed patients
Psychological stresses can be divided into two categories based on their duration: acute psychological stress (such as a surgical operation or examination) and chronic psychological stress (such as anxiety about children, financial problems, and periodic headaches), which can be further subdivided into disconnected and persistent psychological stress.
Symptoms of stress
The most hazardous aspect of stress is how quickly it can overwhelm you. You become accustomed to it. It begins to seem comfortable, even typical. You're not aware of how much it's impacting you, despite the fact that it's taking a significant toll. As a result, it's critical to be aware of the most prevalent warning signs and symptoms of stress overload.
- Memory problems
- Inability to concentrate
- Poor judgment
- Seeing only the negative
- Anxious or racing thoughts
- Constant worrying
- Depression or general unhappiness
- Anxiety and agitation
- Moodiness, irritability, or anger
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Loneliness and isolation
- Other mental or emotional health problems
- Aches and pains
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Nausea, dizziness
- Chest pain, rapid heart rate
- Loss of sex drive
- Frequent colds or flu
- Eating more or less
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Withdrawing from others
- Procrastinating or neglecting responsibilities
- Using alcohol, cigarettes, or drugs to relax
- Nervous habits (e.g. nail biting, pacing)
The effects of chronic stress
Your nervous system isn't particularly excellent at telling the difference between emotional and physical dangers. When you're stressed out over a disagreement with a buddy, a job deadline, or a stack of bills, your body may respond just as powerfully as if you're in a truly life-or-death scenario. And the more your emergency stress system is active, the simpler it is to trigger, making it more difficult to deactivate.
If you are regularly stressed out, as many of us are in today's demanding society, your body may be in a condition of heightened stress most of the time. This can lead to major health issues. Chronic stress disturbs almost all of your body's systems. It can depress your immune system, wreak havoc on your digestive and reproductive systems, raise your risk of heart attack and stroke, and hasten the aging process. It can even rewire your brain, making you more susceptible to anxiety, despair, and other mental health issues.
Health problems caused or exacerbated by stress include:
- Depression and anxiety
- Pain of any kind
- Sleep problems
- Autoimmune diseases
- Digestive problems
- Skin conditions, such as eczema
- Heart disease
- Weight problems
- Reproductive issues
- Thinking and memory problems
Stress and Depression
Stressful life experiences can cause a number of psychological and physiological changes, including activation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and the sympathetic nervous system, which are known as psychological stress reactions.
Serotonin and the serotonin transporter (responsible for serotonin reuptake inside synapses in the brain) are pharmaceutical targets for the treatment of depression. Caspi and colleagues investigated the effect of stressors on the risk of depression by looking at a functional polymorphism in the promoter region of the serotonin transporter (5-HTT) gene.
A prior research with this cohort found that children with a genotype that imparted high amounts of a functional polymorphism in the gene encoding monoamine oxidase A, a neurotransmitter-metabolizing enzyme, were more likely to develop antisocial behavior under abuse settings.
Psychosocial stressors and health
In most situations, however, the underlying mediators remain unknown, despite the fact that putative processes have been investigated in several experimental research. There is an occupational gradient in coronary heart disease (CHD) risk, with men with low socioeconomic level having the worst health outcomes.
However, most of the risk gradient in CHD may be reduced by accounting for a lack of perceived work control, which is a powerful stressor. Other dangerous activities, such as smoking, drinking, and leading a sedentary lifestyle, may be enhanced by stress. Work stress has been found to be a predictor of incident CHD and hypertension in both men and women. In women with pre-existing CHD, however, marital stress is a greater predictor of poor outcome than occupational stress.
Upper Respiratory Diseases
Stressed persons may seek more outside contact, exposing themselves to more diseases. As a result, in a more controlled trial, participants were exposed to a rhinovirus and then confined to control for additional virus exposure. Individuals with the most stressful life experiences and the highest levels of reported stress and negative affect were more likely to develop cold symptoms.
In a subsequent study of volunteers inoculated with a cold virus, it was discovered that people who experienced chronic, stressful life events (i.e., events lasting a month or longer, such as unemployment, chronic underemployment, or ongoing interpersonal difficulties) were more likely to catch a cold, whereas people who experienced stressful events lasting less than a month did not.
Human Immunodeficiency Virus
The influence of life stresses on human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) spectrum illness has also been examined. Researchers monitored males with HIV for up to 7.5 years and discovered that greater cumulative stressful life events, use of denial as a coping technique, worse satisfaction with social support, and raised blood cortisol were related with quicker development to AIDS.
If you're feeling stressed, there are some things you can try to feel less tense and overwhelmed.
1. Recognise when stress is a problem
It's critical to link the physical and mental symptoms you're feeling to the demands you're under. Don't dismiss bodily symptoms such as tight muscles, weariness, headaches, or migraines.
Consider what is causing your tension. Sort them into concerns that have a practical remedy, issues that will improve with time, and issues that you can't change. Take charge by taking little moves toward the areas where you can improve.
Make a strategy to deal with the things you can. Setting realistic expectations and prioritizing vital commitments may be part of this. If you are feeling overwhelmed, seek assistance and decline tasks that you are unable to do.
2. Think about where you can make changes
Are you attempting to do too much? Could you please pass some items on to someone else? Can you accomplish things at a slower pace? You may need to reorganize your life and prioritize your tasks so that you are not attempting to complete everything at once.
3. Build supportive relationships
Find close friends or relatives who can give assistance and practical guidance to help you manage stress. Joining a group or taking a course might allow you to broaden your social network and motivate you to try something new. Activities such as volunteering might alter your viewpoint and improve your attitude.
4. Eat healthily
A nutritious diet can help you feel better. Getting adequate nutrition (such as key vitamins and minerals) and water can improve your mental health.
5. Be aware of your smoking and drinking
If possible, reduce or eliminate smoking and drinking. They may appear to alleviate stress, but they really exacerbate the situation. Anxiety can be exacerbated by alcohol and coffee.
6. Get some exercise
Physical activity can help control the effects of stress by releasing endorphins, which improve your mood. When you're anxious, it might be difficult to inspire yourself, but even a small amount of action can help. You may, for example, strive to walk for 15-20 minutes three times each week.
7. Take time out
Take some time to unwind and exercise self-care, which entails doing things for oneself that are beneficial. You may, for example, listen to our relaxation podcasts to relax your body and mind. Striking a balance between obligation to others and responsibility to oneself is critical for stress reduction.
8. Be mindful
Mindfulness meditation may be done at any time and in any place. It has been shown in studies to be beneficial in controlling and lowering the effects of stress and anxiety.
9. Get some restful sleep
If you're having trouble sleeping, consider reducing your coffee intake and avoiding excessive screen time before bed. Make a to-do list for the next day to help you prioritize, but make sure to set it away before going to bed. Read our guide 'How to Sleep Better' for further advice on getting a good night's sleep.
10. Be kind to yourself
Keep things in perspective and try not to be too harsh on yourself. Look for good aspects of your life and compose a list of things for which you are thankful.
Management of chronic severe stress
Patients suffering from chronic, life-threatening conditions must frequently deal with daily pressures that can impair even the most robust coping techniques and overload the most bountiful interpersonal resources. Psychosocial therapies, such as cognitive-behavioral stress management (CBSM), improve the quality of life of chronic illness patients.
Such therapies reduce felt stress and bad mood (e.g., depression), increase perceived social support, enable problem-focused coping, shift cognitive evaluations, and reduce SNS activation and cortisol production from the adrenal cortex. Psychosocial therapies tend to assist chronic pain patients minimize distress and perceived pain, as well as enhance physical activity and return to work.
These psychosocial therapies may help reduce patients' pharmaceutical usage and consumption of the health-care system. There is also evidence that psychological therapies may have a positive effect on disease development.
Stress is your body's reaction to any type of pressure or threat. When you detect danger, whether real or imagined, your body's defenses go into overdrive in a quick, automatic process known as the "fight-or-flight" reaction or the "stress response."
The stress reaction is your body's attempt to protect you. It helps you stay focused, active, and alert when it is operating properly. In an emergency, stress can save your life by giving you greater power to fight yourself, or by making you slam on the brakes to escape an automobile collision.
Stress may also assist you overcome obstacles. It's what keeps you alert during a job presentation, what keeps you focused while you're trying the game-winning free shot, or what motivates you to prepare for an exam when you'd rather be watching TV. But, at a certain point, stress ceases to be beneficial and begins to harm your health, mood, productivity, relationships, and quality of life.
Don't be hesitant to seek expert help if you continue to feel overwhelmed by stress. It does not imply that you are a failure. It is critical to seek assistance as soon as possible so that you can begin to feel better. Discuss your feelings with your doctor. They should be able to advise you on therapy and may recommend you for additional assistance.