What is Stress and How Does It Affect Your Body?

What is Stress?

Stress is defined as a state of mental or emotional strain or suspense; a difficulty that causes worry or emotional tension; a force that produces strain on a physical body.

  • Are your teethe or fists clenched?
  • Do you feel tense or irritable?
  • Finding it difficult to concentrate?
  • Do you feel a pain in the back of your neck?
  • Do you find that your heart is beating faster than normal?
  • Wondering why that annoying headache won't go away?

...Chances are, you are stressed!!

The Fight or Flight Response

Your body reacts to emotional or physical strain by fighting or fleeing.  It has its own defense mechanism that when triggered, charges you with a boost of energy and strength that enables you to protect yourself in times of emergency (fight or flight).

But your body can't tell the difference between physical and psychological threats, so when you are :

  • challenged by pressing deadlines at the office
  • frustrated because you are stuck in traffic
  • faced with overdue bills
  • trying to soothe a screaming baby
  • rushing to prevent the food from burning on the stove
  • trying to quickly sop up spilt juice on your new carpet

Your body reacts by releasing these same chemicals into your blood.  Since there is no physical danger there is no outlet for all this pent up energy and it results in meltdowns or illnesses.

Here is a short animated clip depicting the fight or flight response courtesy of CRM Learning.

"What is stress?  It's the gap between our expectation and reality.  More the gap, more the stress so expect nothing and accept everything."

The 3 Main Types of Stress

Let's learn more about what is stress by looking at the 3 main types of stress that can affect an individual.  It is important to know the types of stress in order to determine the best way to handle or cope with stress.

The causes of stress may be due to internal or external factors and stress is the body’s reaction to these internal and external factors . Some people react to stress in a positive way that helps to motivate them while some people react to it negatively and if it’s not properly managed, can seriously affect their health.

Acute Stress

It’s the way we react to experiences from the past and anticipation of things to come. This is the type of stress that most of us experience.

  • It’s in that fear of dating & possibly getting hurt by someone new when you recently had a bad break up with your ex.
  • It's in the nervousness that you feel when you know that you're next up to do a presentation during a business meeting
  • It's that momentary panic when you can't find your car keys and you know you are running late.
  • It’s the thrill you get when you do a bungee jump or a sky dive – a major adrenaline rush.

Acute stress comes and goes and can be easily managed by practicing some of these relaxation techniques.

Episodic Acute Stress

Episodic Acute Stress is a kind of stress that is frequently experienced by persons always on the go or who are constantly worrying about the future.  Persons who lead stressful lives are constantly in a state of rush – Hurry! Hurry! Quick! Quick!  No time to slow down and pace themselves.  They tend to be characterized as being jittery or having lots of nervous energy, tense and even irritable.

Of the three types of stress, this is the one that is experienced by persons who are pessimists (the-glass-is-half-empty types), wrapped up in ceaseless worries - What ifs, Will its and Wont its.

This state of ongoing nervousness and fear will eat away at their health making them more prone to meltdowns and illnesses if not properly treated by the aid of a therapist, adopting a healthier lifestyle and changing the way they think.

Chronic Stress

This is the type of stress that one lives under everyday due to the environment.  It tends to wear you down.

A person in an abusive relationship or living in a war-torn area where there is ongoing violence experiences this kind of stress. The situation seems hopeless and is endured not seeing a way out of such a dysfunctional and painful environment.

In some cases chronic stress is accepted as the norm, for example working in a noisy environment like a construction site or factory, after a while you no longer notice just how loud it is.

In some cases, the stress that the person undergoes is seen as minor in comparison to the joy that comes from achievement and personal success.  For example, the body of a dancer or an athlete experiences regular injuries and bruises. There is a lot of stress placed on their body from the taxing routines or rigorous training that they undergo.  The dancer or athlete will persevere because this type of stress is perceived as something that comes with the territory of doing what they love.

How Stress Affects Your Body

It is beneficial to know what is stress because its effects are varied and can affect the way you feel in your body, the way you think and the way you act.

Pay close attention to your body, your moods, your energy level.  The quicker you make the connection with how you feel and what's going on in your life, the faster you will be able to manage the effects of the emotional or physical strain.

Watch this short video that shows how stress can affect every part of our body.

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