Wake Forest School of Medicine:
Stress is difficult to define because every person has different life experiences which can lead to stress and every person has different ways of dealing with stress. The American Institute of Stress (AIS) states that a good general definition of stress is: the non-specific response of the body to any demand for change. This means that a stress response can be bad (distress) or good (eustress) to a certain situation, person, or experience in your life. The things in our lives that can lead to stress are called stressors.
What are some common stressors?
Common stressors for many of us include: stress associated with work (such as a deadline or difficult relationship with a co-worker); interpersonal relationships with family, spouse/significant other and friends; major life changes such as marriage, birth of child, divorce, moving or job change; death or illness of a loved one; and personal illnesses.
How does stress negatively affect my body?
When we react to a stressor it is called a stress response, which most often triggers a release of the hormones cortisol and adrenaline. Cortisol is the main stress hormone that, when released, increases the ability of our brain to function and our body to repair itself (if needed). However, to do this, cortisol can alter certain functions like our immune system, digestive system and reproductive system. Adrenaline increases your heart rate and your blood pressure and boosts your body’s energy supplies.
Since many stressful situations happen repeatedly or occur over periods of time, this causes the stress response and elevated levels of hormones to continue longer than it should, which can become very harmful. These effects can be both psychological (mental/emotional) and physiological (your physical body).
Stress may also play a role in heart disease, depression, and certain types of cancer. Remember – these are just some of the possible symptoms; if you are experiencing these or other symptoms you think may be related to stress, you should talk to your health care provider about addressing your systems and strategies for stress management.
How can I relieve stress?
Stress release is a personal, individual thing; that which relieves stress for one person may cause more stress for someone else. Exercise is a great way to relieve stress as well as a critical component of a healthy overall lifestyle. Meditation and prayer have also been useful for many people. Some people enjoy engaging in hobbies or other leisure time activities that are fun and interesting for them to do. Sometimes just getting away from the stressor for a little while can help, though procrastination can also be a stressor in and of itself.
Can stress be useful?
Stress in small doses can be useful for us. For instance, our “fight or flight” response, which is governed by adrenaline, can give us the energy and focus we need to handle a difficult situation. This response evolved among animals, proving adaptive because it enabled animals in danger to flee or prepare to fight for their lives.
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