The effects of stress

Stress occurs when someone experiences a situation that they are unfamiliar with.
Stress is something that everyone experiences in their day-to-day lives. Whether you are having some type of difficulty at work, in relationships or other situations, anything that creates some type of threat to your well-being can cause stress. While stress can be motivating, too much stress can have major impacts on your health.

What is stress?

Stress is the body’s reaction to a threat in some regard. This causes the body to explode with hormones to confront danger. The body then activates resources to confront the stress they are facing. This is also known as the fight-or-flight reaction. This reaction produces chemicals of cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine which can have the following effects on your body:
  • A rise in blood pressure
  • Improved muscle preparedness
  • Sweating
  • Increased awareness
  • Increased heart rate
  All of these conditions take place when someone is in a difficult situation for them to withstand. Environmental factors that trigger the reaction are known as stressors. Things such as loud sounds, aggressive behaviour, high traffic or a scary movie can act as stressors and increase stress levels. The most common stressors are due to job, school or money concerns.

What physical effects does stress have on your body?

On top of the mental effects, stress also has some considerable physical effects on your body. The main changes that your body experiences from a stress reaction are:
  • Increase in blood pressure and pulse
  • Faster breathing
  • The digestive system slows down
  • Lower immune activity
  • Muscle tension increases
Stress can weaken your immune system, making you more vulnerable to illnesses and diseases.

What causes stress?

Depending on how a person reacts to a stressful situation, it can have an impact on their health. Some people can handle multiple stressors at a time and use it as motivation, while others struggle to cope with a single stressor. A stronger reaction is caused by someone that believes that they cannot overcome or will have major difficulties in solving the situation at hand.

In some cases, there are forms of positive stress such as going on vacation or buying a new house. These situations present new responsibilities, additional effort and adaptability to a new environment.  Stress is created in this way as a person is forced to take steps into an unknown situation to them. 

What are the main types of stress?

Acute

  • Acute stress is a short-term and common type of stress. It occurs when people face the pressure of recent events or face future upcoming challenges. For example, if someone has an upcoming deadline for a presentation, they may experience acute stress. However, once the situation that is causing stress is resolved, the stress will disappear. 
  • Acute stress will also create short-term effects such as tension headaches or a minor upset stomach due to its moderate level of distress. While acute stress is not significantly harmful in the short-term, if it is experienced over a longer period of time, it can be harmful and chronic.

Chronic

  • Chronic stress takes place over a long period and can be harmful. This type of stress is not as easily solvable as acute stress and it can have detrimental health effects. An unstable job, an unhappy marriage or ongoing poverty are examples of situations that can cause chronic stress. Chronic stress develops when someone avoids a stressor and possible resolutions for the situation that is causing them stress.
  • Chronic stress can cause your body to struggle to return to its normal stress hormone levels. This can affect many of your bodily systems including: cardiovascular, respiratory, sleep, immune and reproductive systems. Constant stress will also increase a person’s susceptibility to various illnesses and diseases such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and even heart disease. Other mental health disorders such as anxiety or depression can occur as stress becomes chronic. The constant state of stress will have an effect on the individual’s reactions to their day-to-day life, causing them to feel stress for even the simplest of situations.

How can you overcome stress?

Forms of acute stress can be resolved on their own through resolution. However, to overcome chronic stress, it is best to speak to a trusted person such as a family member or therapist. Therapy will allow the struggling person to speak on their stressor and a therapist will be able to provide them with potential solutions. Medicines such as antidepressants can also be used to suppress the stress, however, it will only act as a temporary solution until the situation is completely resolved.

Other ways to limit stress-related feelings include:
  • Exercising 
  • Avoid consumption of alcohol, drugs or caffeine 
  • Have a balanced diet (with a lot of fruits and vegetables)
  • Prioritizing tasks at hand (e.g. making a to-do list)
  • Breathing and relaxation exercises
  • Talking to trusted people about your concerns 
  • Acknowledging the signs of stress
By exercising regularly, it can become easier to manage feelings of stress.

By experimenting with each of these stress resolvers, you will ease any long-term, chronic stress that you are experiencing.

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