What is stress?
Stress is your body’s response to change. The body reacts to change by releasing adrenaline, a hormone that causes your breathing and heart rate to speed up and your blood pressure to rise. These reactions help you deal with the stressful situation at hand.
Many types of situations can trigger this response. Stressors can be positive or negative, as well as real or imagined. They may be recurring, short-term or long-term, and may include things like commuting to and from school or work every day, traveling for a yearly vacation, or moving to another home.
Stressful situations can be mild and relatively harmless, such as watching a scary movie or riding a roller coaster. Some changes, however, like marriage or divorce, serious illness or a car accident, are more serious. Other stressors are extreme, such as exposure to violence, which can lead to traumatic stress reactions.
When is stress a problem?
Not all stress is bad. Speaking to a group or watching a close basketball game can be stressful situations, but they can be fun, too.
Problems arise when stress does not go away and your body remains in high gear for days or weeks at a time. Prolonged stress may cause an increase in heart rate and blood pressure.
How does stress make you feel?
Stress affects each of us in different ways. You may have physical signs, emotional signs or both.
- It can make you feel angry, afraid, excited or helpless.
- It can make it hard to sleep.
- It can give you aches in your head, neck, jaw and back.
- It can lead to habits like smoking, drinking, overeating or drug abuse.
- You may not feel it at all, even though your body suffers from it.
How does stress affect your overall health?
Stress can have different effects on each person. For example, some people experience mainly digestive symptoms, while others may have headaches, sleeplessness, depressed mood, anger and irritability. People under chronic stress are prone to more frequent and severe viral infections, such as the flu or common cold. Also, vaccines, such as the flu shot, are less effective for them.
Of all the types of stress, changes in health from routine stress may be hardest to notice at first. Because the source of stress tends to be more constant than in cases of traumatic stress, the body gets no clear signal to return to normal functioning. Over time, continued strain on your body from routine stress may lead to serious health problems, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, depression, anxiety disorder and other illnesses.
Information courtesy of the American Heart Association, National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Mental Health and FamilyDoctor.org.