"The life of inner peace, being harmonious and without stress, is the easiest type of existence" -Norman Vincent Peale
What is stress?
Stress is your body’s response to anything that disrupts your normal life and routines. Your body responds to stressful events with an instinctive “fight or flight” response. This physical response comes from a rush of adrenaline and other hormones that speed up your heart and breathing and give you a burst of energy so that you can respond to danger. We may not need to fight, or flee from, predators and immediate danger very often. But the stress response still kicks in when we feel a threat. In the modern world, the causes of stress can be everyday events and changes, such as relationships, work, money, and difficult decisions. They can also be traumatic events, such as the death of a loved one, natural disasters, and trauma.
Stress is your body's response to certain situations. Stress is a subjective; something that may be stressful for one person—speaking in public, for instance—may not be stressful for someone else. Not all stresses are "bad"; for example, graduating from college may be considered a "good" stress. Stress can affect your physical health, your mental health, and your behavior. In response to stressful stimuli, your body turns on its biological response: chemicals and hormones are released that are meant to help your body rise to the challenge. Your heart rate increases, your brain works faster and becomes razor sharp, you have a sudden burst of energy. This response is natural and basic; it's what kept our ancestors from falling victim to hungry predators. Stress overload, however, can have harmful effects. We cannot eliminate stress from our lives, but we can learn to manage it.
Types of Stress
Acute stress is the most common form of stress. It comes from demands and pressures of the recent past and anticipated demands and pressures of the near future. Acute stress is thrilling and exciting in small doses, but too much is exhausting. A fast run down a challenging ski slope, for example, is exhilarating early in the day. That same ski run late in the day is taxing and wearing. Skiing beyond your limits can lead to falls and broken bones. By the same token, overdoing on short-term stress can lead to psychological distress, tension headaches, upset stomach and other symptoms.
Fortunately, acute stress symptoms are recognized by most people. It's a laundry list of what has gone awry in their lives: the auto accident that crumpled the car fender, the loss of an important contract, a deadline they're rushing to meet, their child's occasional problems at school and so on.
Because it is short term, acute stress doesn't have enough time to do the extensive damage associated with long-term stress.
The most common symptoms are:
• Emotional distress — some combination of anger or irritability, anxiety and depression, the three stress emotions.
• Muscular problems including tension headache, back pain, jaw pain and the muscular tensions that lead to pulled muscles and tendon and ligament problems.
• Stomach, gut and bowel problems such as heartburn, acid stomach, flatulence, diarrhea, constipation and irritable bowel syndrome.
• Transient over arousal leads to elevation in blood pressure, rapid heartbeat, sweaty palms, heart palpitations, dizziness, migraine headaches, cold hands or feet, shortness of breath and chest pain.
Acute stress can crop up in anyone's life, and it is highly treatable and manageable.
Some stress is positive. It causes our bodies to release adrenaline, which helps us to accomplish assignments and projects, and can even enhance our performance and problem-solving ability. But chronic stress, which is constant and persists over an extended period of time, can be debilitating and overwhelming. Chronic stress can affect both our physical and psychological well-being by causing a variety of problems including anxiety, insomnia, muscle pain, high blood pressure and a weakened immune system. Research shows that stress can contribute to the development of major illnesses, such as heart disease, depression and obesity. The consequences of chronic stress are serious. Yet, many Americans who experience prolonged stress are not making the necessary lifestyle changes to reduce stress and ultimately prevent health problems.
According to a 2009 survey by the American Psychological Association (APA), adults who were advised by their health care provider to make lifestyle changes specifically associated with behaviors or symptoms of stress — such as quitting smoking, eating healthy foods, getting more sleep or reducing stress overall — were the least likely to report success in making lifestyle changes. Fortunately, it is possible to manage and alleviate chronic stress. Improving lifestyle and making better behavior choices are essential steps toward increasing overall health.
The goal of stress isn't to get rid of it completely. That would be entirely impossible. Plus, in some situations stress can be healthy. Instead, the goal of stress management is to identify a person's stressors—what it is that causes him or her the most problems, or demands the most energy—and find ways to overcome the negative stress those things normally induce.
You might try some of these ideas:
- Learn better ways to manage your time. You may get more done with less stress if you make a schedule. Think about which things are most important, and do those first.
- Find better ways to cope. Look at how you have been dealing with stress. Be honest about what works and what does not. Think about other things that might work better.
- Take good care of yourself. Get plenty of rest. Eat well. Don't smoke. Limit how much alcohol you drink.
- Try out new ways of thinking. When you find yourself starting to worry, try to stop the thoughts. Work on letting go of things you cannot change. Learn to say "no."
- Speak up. Not being able to talk about your needs and concerns creates stress and can make negative feelings worse. Assertive communication can help you express how you feel in a thoughtful, tactful way.
- Ask for help. People who have a strong network of family and friends manage stress better.
General Stress Links
50 Common Signs and Symptoms of Stress (The American Institute of Stress)
The American Institute of Stress (AIS)
Stress: Causes and Effects, Cures and Balms (Psychology Today)
Stress Symptoms, Signs and Causes (Helpguide.org)
How Stress Affects the Body (Heart Math.com)
What You Need to Know About Stress - Five Uncommonly Known Facts (Heartmath.com)
Stress in Midlife Linked to Higher Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease (Bloomberg.com)
Stress Reduction Links
21 Ways to Reduce Stress During the Workday
Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Program - MBSR (University of Massachusetts Medical School)
Coping with Stress Checklist (Mental Health America)
What Do You want to Know About Stress Management? (Healthline)
How to Reduce, Prevent, and Cope with Stress (Helpguide.org)
Information and Education about Stress and Stress Management (Hydesmith.com)
Meditation to Reduce Stress (Mayo Clinic)
Relaxation to Reduce Stress (Mayo Clinic)
Stress Management Health Center (WebMD)
Relaxation Tips (WebMD)
Food and Mood
Children and Stress
Parents Helping Parents: Parental Stress Line 1-800-632-8188
Helping Kids Cope with Stress (KidsHealth.org)
7 Tips for Helping Your Child Manage Stress (PsychCentral)
Talking With Your Child About Stress (American Psychological Association)
The Powerful Impact of Stress (Johns Hopkins University)
Children and Stress: Strategies for Children (Virginia Cooperative Extension)
Stress Reduction Activities for Students
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