What is stress?
In simple terms, stress is a physical response to an external or internal trigger. How you respond to these stressors depends on the nature of the stimulus, together with the duration and intensity. The resulting biological response to these triggers can elevate your heart rate and increase your blood pressure. If left untreated, high stress can lead to life-threatening diseases and an increased rate of mortality.
When we think of stress, it conjures up feelings of tension and unease. Stress has so many negative associations that we forget it has a positive side. Without stress we wouldn’t be physically able to get out of bed in the morning or run away from danger. However, there’s a fine line between good and bad stress.
What are the different types of stress?
There are 4 main types of stress:
- Acute stress triggers the release of adrenaline and is commonly called the Fight or Flight response. This is when your body goes into superdrive in an attempt to save you from an oncoming car, for example. It takes about 90 minutes for these physical effects to subside.
- Chronic stress is that nagging feeling you get from adult responsibilities like staying on top of the bills, coping with job stress, and managing family obligations. Chronic stress can affect the long-term health of your body and immune system.
- Eustress involves happy occasions like weddings and birthday parties that require a lot of planning. It’s the excitement you feel from making new friends and achieving your goals. It’s a beneficial and positive kind of stress.
- Distress can result in times of extreme unrest, injury, or change like going through a divorce, facing financial trouble, or working in a negative environment.2
Common causes of stress
- Money – Loss of job, reduced retirement, medical expenses
- Job Pressure – Co-worker tension, bosses, work overload
- Health – Health crisis, terminal or chronic illness
- Relationships – Divorce, death of spouse, arguments with friends, loneliness
- Media Overload – News, internet, e-mail, social networking
Impact of stress on your health
The body’s response to stress sets off a chain reaction that causes increased heart rate, elevated blood pressure, and high levels of blood cholesterol. While your body is good at adapting to stress at first, over time it can lose its ability to cope, allowing disease conditions to arise.
Because the impact of stress demands so much from your heart, it is recognized as a significant risk factor in cardiovascular disease. With prolonged stress, high blood pressure increases your risk of developing cardiac arrhythmias, blood clots, and arterial damage that can result in stroke or heart attack.
While it’s almost impossible to control many of the stressors in our lives, we can take proactive measures to reduce stress and develop a healthy response to stressful situations.
8 Tips to Help You Manage Stress
- Keep a Stress Journal
Writing down the causes of your stress and how you coped in each situation will help you recognize the areas in your life you need to work on.
- Prioritize your Time
Scheduling your appointments, deadlines and other commitments in a calendar will help you stay on top of your priorities. By allocating enough time to each, you can plan and prepare more effectively, and as a result reduce stress.
- Meditation or Yoga
These practices can help you center your thoughts and still your mind. As you develop your practice, you can learn to respond more openly to stress by remaining calm.
- Breathing Exercises
Slowing your breath and concentrating on deep, cleansing breaths helps to induce relaxation. Breathing exercises increase your circulation and releases tension by bringing blood-rich oxygen to your muscles, organs, and joints.
- Sleep Well
Restful sleep is the antidote to stress. Getting a good night’s sleep helps to reduce stress hormones and restore your body to good health.
- Eat A Well-Balanced Diet
Stress can cause some people to eat too many high fat, high sugary foods, which can trigger the release of the stress hormone, cortisol. Caffeine can also trigger a stress response in the body by elevating your heart rate and blood pressure. Following a low fat, low salt diet full of leafy greens and fresh fruit and fiber can help reduce stress.
- Regular Exercise
Regular exercise can condition your heart to respond better in times of stress. In addition, physical exercise helps relieve tension and reduce stress by releasing calming, feel-good hormones called endorphins.
- Seek Professional Treatment
When stress levels start to have a negative impact on your life, consult a health professional for medical advice and therapeutic interventions like massage and aromatherapy.
Stress plays a significant role in predicting many different diseases, so it’s important to find a stress reduction program that works for you.
1. American Institute of Stress