Stress problems are very common with many people reporting experiencing extreme levels of negative stress. When stress is considered as something that occurs repeatedly across the full lifespan, the true incidence of stress problems is much higher. Being "stressed out" is thus a universal human phenomenon that affects almost everyone.
What are we talking about when we discuss stress? Generally, most people use the word stress to refer to negative experiences that leave us feeling overwhelmed. Thinking about stress exclusively as something negative gives us a false impression of its true nature, however. Stress is a reaction to a changing, demanding environment. Properly considered, stress is really more about our capacity to handle change than it is about whether that change makes us feel good or bad. Change happens all the time, and stress is in large part what we feel when we are reacting to it.
We can define stress by saying that it involves the "set of emotion...More
Fast Facts: Learn! Fast!
What is stress?
Stress is a reaction to a changing, demanding environment.
Stress is really more about our capacity to handle change than it is about whether that change makes us feel good or bad.
Change happens all the time and stress is in large part what we feel when we are reacting to it.
Every event in the environment, from the weather to the ringing telephone, has some sort of impact on us, and the instant we become aware of that event taking place, we have recognized a demand.
Understanding that a demand has occurred does not automatically cause us to experience stress. Instead, we appraise a demand by asking ourselves two questions: 1) Does this event present a threat to me? and 2) Do I have the resources to cope with this event?
If we appraise an event as threatening, the sympathetic nervous system automatically signals our body to prepare for action.
Once your body has been prepared for action by the various hormones and neurotransmitters, you are ready to respond to the stressor by taking physical action.
Physiologists call what happens next the "fight-or-flight" response to highlight the two most common forms that this physical response tends to take.
Once a stressor has been neutralized (or has been avoided successfully), the parasympathetic nervous system starts to undo the stress response by sending out new signals telling your body to calm down.
Chronic and persistent negative stress can lead to many adverse health problems, including physical illness, and mental, emotional and social problems.
Chronic stimulation of the immune system causes the system to become suppressed overall, and thus become less effective at warding off diseases and infections.
Many people experience a stomachache or diarrhea when they are stressed.
Chronic activation of stress hormones can raise your heart rate, cause chest pain and/or heart palpitations (sensations that your heart is pounding or racing), and increase your blood pressure and blood lipid (fat) levels.
People who respond to stress with anger or hostility have an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
Unhealthy stress coping strategies such as smoking, drinking, or overeating can also damage the heart and surrounding blood vessels.
Stress often causes muscles to contract or tighten and over time, sustained stress can cause aches and pains to occur due to muscle tension.
The hormones accompanying stress can cause reproductive problems for both women and men.
Stress also worsens many skin conditions.
Stress hormones can contribute to a sustained feeling of low energy or depression.
Chronic and/or severe stress can also negatively affect people with Bipolar Disorder.
Some people who are stressed may show relatively mild outward signs of anxiety, such as fidgeting, biting their fingernails, tapping their feet, etc.
In other people, chronic activation of stress hormones can contribute to severe feelings of anxiety (e.g., racing heartbeat, nausea, sweaty palms, etc.), feelings of helplessness and a sense of impending doom.
People who are chronically stressed may experience confusion, difficulty concentrating, trouble learning new information, and/or problems with decision-making.
Restorative techniques are used for reducing the unpleasant and unhealthy emotional effects of stressful events that have already occurred.
Conscious deep rhythmic breathing has a calming effect on the body, and tends to help the heart rate to slow down, the mind to quiet and attention to turn inward towards the sensation of inhalation and exhalation.
Meditation is putting your mind at ease by controlling the focus of your attention and can also help reduce anger and hostility feelings by teaching you to suspend automatic judgments.
Physical activity is one of the best methods for fighting stress. Exercise helps you feel better by harnessing the body's natural fight or flight response, rather than suppressing it.
Progressive muscle relaxation is a stress relief technique that relies upon subtle rather than gross (large) muscular movements to promote relaxation and tension relief.
There are several other methods and techniques based on using kinetic (body) movements to reduce stress, as well as those that involve therapeutic touch like in massage, or manipulating specific body points as done in acupuncture.
There are a wide variety of medications that can be used to aid in the process of stress relief and prevention.
Psychological strategies for stress relief draw upon the broad discipline of psychology to provide insight into why people become stressed and methods for how that stress can be lessened.
Visualization and imagery (sometimes referred to as guided imagery) techniques offer yet another avenue for stress reduction.
Rather than directly manipulating one's body or mind to reduce stress, you can also change the environment around you to produce a transformative and stress-relieving effect.
Another absolutely vital skill for maintaining a healthy balance between work and life responsibilities is the ability to be assertive when necessary. Being assertive means being able to say no, and to refuse requests and demands when they are not healthy for you to take on.
Stress Inoculation Therapy (SIT) is a psychotherapy method intended to help patients prepare themselves in advance to handle stressful events successfully and with a minimum of upset.
Stress and uncertainty plague many Americans, but there are a number of steps you can take to cope, a psychiatrist suggests. More...
How to Handle Holiday Stressors
While others are decking the halls, many people find the holidays trigger anxiety and depression. More...
Take Time for 'Me Time'
Husband or wife, mom or dad, the demands on your time can be overwhelming. But even if there's no end to your to-do list, securing some time for yourself is a must. More...
Here's to a Healthy Holiday Season
Taking care of your health is one of the best gifts you can give yourself this holiday season, a medical expert suggests. More...
Stress Keeps 1 in 3 Americans Up at Night
Millions of Americans are losing sleep as economic and political stress keeps them tossing and turning at night, a new study finds. More...
Don't Let Holiday Season Stress Worsen Your Allergies, Asthma
Reducing stress could cut your risk of allergy and asthma symptoms during the holidays. More...
Health Tip: Exercise to Counteract Stress and Anxiety
Exercise is a great way to preserve mental fitness and reduce stress and anxiety, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America says. More...
Take 10 for Mindfulness
Feel yourself being pulled in a million directions and losing track of what's really important? The meditative practice called mindfulness can help you get centered and re-focus on what's meaningful to you. More...
Health Tip: Spend Time Outside to Reduce Stress and Anxiety
Spending time outside will help reduce stress and anxiety, the American Heart Association says. It may also boost feelings of happiness and improve your mood, the AHA says. More...
Stressed at Work? Open Office Plan Might Help
A new study suggests that open workspaces without partitions between desks encourage employees to be more active and help curb stress. More...
Health Tip: Help Manage Stress
Feelings of stress and anxiety can make it difficult to cope with everyday life. More...
Stress Won't Undermine Fertility Treatment Success: Study
Struggles with infertility can take an emotional toll. But a new study finds the stress that a woman often experiences during infertility treatment won't limit her chances of success. More...
Green Spaces a Mental Balm for City Dwellers
A splash of green in an urban landscape can lift the spirits of city residents, a new study suggests. More...
On-the-Job Stress Relief
Now, research points to even more benefits from taking a workday walk: boosting your mood and relieving job stress. More...
Health Tip: Stay Calm You When You Feel Frazzled
Life can be stressful with the constant demands of work, household activities and busy schedules. More...
Vacation Bliss Doesn't Linger for Tired, Stressed-Out Workers
Taking time off reduces many workers' stress and re-energizes them, but those benefits disappear once they're on the job again, researchers say. More...
Severe Stress May Send Immune System Into Overdrive
Trauma or intense stress may up your odds of developing an autoimmune disease, a new study suggests. More...
Exercise Options That Double as Stress-Busters
Exercise is a known stress buster, and different disciplines relax and tone you in a variety of ways. So, you can pick and choose from many types of exercise to go beyond physical fitness to better mental health. More...
AHA: Stress Contributes to High Rates of Heart Disease Among Black Adults
Daily stressors are associated with poor health behaviors that put African-American adults at greater risk of heart disease and stroke, a new study finds. More...
Health Tip: How Working Parents Can Avoid Burnout
When a parent works full time, it can be difficult to balance responsibilities at work and at home. More...
Health Tip: Control Caregiver Stress
Caregiving for a loved one can be very rewarding. But it doesn't come without stress and anxiety. More...
Why You Should Unwind After a Tough Day at Work
After dealing with nasty co-workers or a rude boss all day, try doing something to unwind. It can help you sleep better, a new study suggests. More...
Females May Be Naturally More Prone to Stress: Animal Study
A male-only protein found in rats helps control stress signals in the brain, research shows. More...