Stress

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In response to pressure from the outside world, humans develop emotional and physical strain or stress. Signs of stress include tension, irritability, inability to concentrate, and a variety of physical symptoms that include headache and a fast heartbeat.

When stress was first studied in the 1950s, the term was used to denote both the causes and the experienced effects of these pressures. More recently, however, the word stressor has been used for the stimulus that provokes a stress response.


Contents

Results from interactions

Stress in humans results from interactions between persons and their environment that are perceived as straining or exceeding their adaptive capacities and threatening their well-being. The element of ‘perception’ is important and indicates that human stress responses reflect differences in personality, as well as differences in physical strength or general health.

In small doses, stressors can help give us increased energy and alertness, even helping to keep us focused on the problem at hand. This type of stress is good. People may refer to the experience of this type of stress as feeling "pumped" or "wired."

As the level of pressure gets too great, stress eventually surpasses our ability to cope with it in a positive way. Often, people describe themselves as being stressed out, burned out, or at wits end. At this point, it is important to find positive and productive ways to deal with the stress and, more importantly, to address the person or situation that is causing the stress.

Everyone reacts to stress differently. Each of us has a different level of pressure and anxiety that we can handle without a bad outcome. Only you can assess your level of tolerance to stressful situations. The best treatment for stress is to prevent getting into situations that are likely to overwhelm your ability to cope. This is not always possible because the stressors may often come from outside sources that are beyond your control

Causes and symptoms

The causes of stress can include any event or occurrence that a person considers a threat to his or her coping strategies or resources. Researchers generally agree that a certain degree of stress is a normal part of a living organism's response to the inevitable changes in its physical or social environment, and that positive, as well as negative, events can generate stress as well as negative occurrences. Stress-related disease, however, results from excessive and prolonged demands on an organism's coping resources.

Stress results in both mental and physical symptoms. The effects of stress are different for different people. The mental symptoms of stress include tension, irritability, inability to concentrate, feeling excessively tired and trouble in sleeping. The physical symptoms of stress include dry mouth, a pounding heart, difficulty in breathing, stomach upset, frequent urination, sweating palms and tightning muscles that may cause pain and trembling. While dealing with stress, people may turn to unhealthy behaviors such as overeating and smoking for relief and avoiding exercise, which in turn leads to increased health problems that ultimately make stress worse. The response to stress differs between men and women. Women under stress feel nervous, want to cry or experience a lack of energy, while men have trouble sleeping and feel angry.

Stress-related emotional illness results from inadequate or inappropriate responses to major changes in one's life situation, such as marriage, completing one's education, becoming a parent, losing a job, or retirement. Psychiatrists sometimes use the term adjustment disorder to describe this type of illness. In the workplace, stress-related illness often takes the form of burnout – a loss of interest in or ability to perform one's job due to long-term high stress levels.


Risk factors

The risk factors for stress-related illnesses are a mix of personal, interpersonal, and social variables. These factors include lack or loss of control over one's physical environment, and lack or loss of social support networks. People who are dependent on others (e.g., children or the elderly) or who are socially disadvantaged (because of race, gender, educational level, or similar factors) are at greater risk of developing stress-related illnesses. Other risk factors include feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, extreme fear or anger, and cynicism or distrust of others.

Managing and Treating Stress

To manage stress, the person needs identify the warning signs of stress. He needs to learn how stress is affecting his or her mind and body and realize when to seek professional help.

To cut stress, a person should take up exercising at least three times a week; eat fresh fruits and drink plenty of water; meditate; take small breaks in work; take deep breaths and look at nature – green grass, flowers etc; devote 15 minutes to half and hour to a non-useful but restful and entertaining activity; pamper yourself; have more sex as the physical and mental benefits are numerous; be less critical and more forgiving to oneself; accept situations which you have no control over; and finally prioritise ones work and delegate.


Resources

  • The role of stress in health & illness
  • eMedicineHealth