Published On: Tue, Feb 18th, 2014

The Effects of Stress

effects-of-stressEver wonder about how stress effects our bodies and our health? This word stress is thrown around by the media so much it’s losing its meaning but have you ever wondered how they define stress? Stress can be defined as a physical, chemical, or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental tension and may be a factor in disease causation. Stress-causing events are called stressors, they can come from external sources or from within us and can scale from relatively mild to quite serious.

There are things, events, and conflicts that cause people to “stress-out.” These are called stressors. Stressors can be anything from something small, like being stuck in traffic during rush hour or something big like an earthquake or hurricane. Stressors can also be imaginary, such as financial stress such as, where the next mortgage payment will come from. There are two kinds of stressors, one is distress which is the bad stress and eustress which is the good stress that motivates us as people to do well.

There are certain environmental factors that can affect our stress levels and sometimes we cannot control the outcome of these events, these are basic ups and downs of life. An example of an external stressor is a catastrophe. Catastrophe is an unpredictable, large scale event that can create a magnificent need to adapt or adjust your lifestyle. An example of a catastrophe would be an earthquake or your house burning down. Another huge stressor in our lives could be a major life change. It could be something from a death in the family, to a family move from one city to another, or it could be as simple as a job change. The hardest part about any of these chances is coping and adjusting to your new setting.

Believe it or not there are such things as good and bad stress. Too much of either can lead to disorders that can control our lives and can help spiral our lives out of control. These disorders can possibly, in a sense, make us do things that we normally wouldn’t do. It’s almost like an altered uncontrollable state of both mind and body. One of those stress disorders is called acute stress disorder. Acute Stress Disorder, or ASD, is characterized by the development of severe anxiety, dissociative, and other symptoms that occurs within one month after exposure to an extreme traumatic stressor. This disorder was unfortunately the most common suffered by many people after the traumatic events of 9/11.

Another stress disorder that is commonly found among returning soldiers from war is called post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a disorder that can develop following a traumatic event that threatens your safety or makes you feel helpless. Traumatic events that can lead to PTSD include rape, a natural disaster, kidnapping, assaults, car or plane crash, medical procedures especially in young children, and war. According to The National Institute of Mental Health, women seem to be more susceptible to PTSD and have almost twice the risk of developing PTSD.

It’s easy to talk about the major life changes and major stressors but the most of our daily stress come from the smallest things. From minor disagreements, the water dripping, traffic, and other daily annoyances are called hassles. We run into these hassles more often and more frequently than a stressor on a larger scale. Our text book compares major stressors to throwing a rock into a pond. The rock makes a big splash, like a major life stressor, but the rock disappears. What’s left is the ripple and those ripples are the hassles that arise from that big stressor.

There are some psychological and mental factors involved being with stress. When stress comes to mind what does the typical person think of? People think about the pressure involved with stress. We as people stress about everything from work to family life to timing pressure. Time pressure is one of the most common forms of pressure. It seems like especially in today’s society, everyone has this “I have no time” concept. This no time concept is called the poverty of time concept. People believe they have no time because they occupy themselves with something else of a lower priority such as, watching television or playing around on the computer and they could be thinking and doing what’s most important. When people say they have no time to do whatever, their next breath is usually always “but I work well under pressure.” The truth is, according to government studies, that pressure can actually have a negative effect impact on a person’s ability to be creative.

Another psychological factor involved with stress is the uncontrollability factor. This is the person’s ability to have some kind of dominance or control over a particular event or situation. Usually the less control a person has over an event the greater degree of stress. There have been studies that have shown that lack of control in a situation has a direct effect with the increase in PTSD symptoms. An example of a situation or event that one has no control over could be something we consider small, like a plane ride, or something on a larger scale, like cancer.

Have you ever been frustrated with someone or something? Of course we all have. Frustration occurs when people are blocked or prohibited from achieving a desired goal. Most frustration is external, such as your car breaking down or that promotion you wanted was given to someone else. External frustration can have certain degrees of frustration. That person who is hungry but not in a hurry will have more patience and less frustration but the person who is late for their dinner reservation and their family is waiting for them will obviously be more frustrated than the other person. Aggression or actions meant to harm or wreck is another form of frustration. Scientists believe that there is a correlation between frustration and aggression but it doesn’t mean there is a direct relationship between the two.

How does stress affect the body and our immune systems? Scientists have come up with a classification technique called the general adaption system, GAS. GAS is the three stages of the body’s physiological reaction to stress. The first stage is the alarm stage, this is when the body first realizes and begins to react to that stressor. During this stage the adrenal glands release certain hormones that can result in an increase in heart rate, higher blood pressure, and a steady supply of blood sugar which produce a sudden burst of energy. The second stage is called resistance, this is when stress is at the highest. During the stressor a continuing release of hormones are prevalent in the blood stream and the body will continue to release these hormones until the stressor has stopped or gone away. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, one of the hormones released can affect the brain’s ability to process pain, so during that period of time of the resistance stage the person could feel little or no pain. The third and final stage is called exhaustion, this is when all the body’s resources are spent and exhausted. Exhaustion can lead to stress like diseases and disorders, like high blood pressure. That person will most likely begin to feel that pain from the resistance stage during exhaustion.

Alarm and resistance are stages that people can go through several times during a lifetime but this also allows people to adapt to life’s ups and downs. A prolonged depletion of stress hormones during the exhaustion stage can lead to the most harmful effects of stress. The most common of these diseases include but aren’t limited to ulcers and high blood pressure.

Stress can actually have an increasing effect of the immune system. The good effects of stress can only work when the stress is not a continual, constant condition. The study of the effects of stress and emotions on the immune system is called psychoneuroimmunology. It is believed that an overabundance of stress and emotion can cause the immune system to weaken making you more settable to illness and disease.

In what ways do you deal with stress? We all deal with stress in different ways. Some of us deal with stress in unhealthy ways such as smoking or drinking. Unfortunately, many people cope with stress in ways that compound the problem. To cope with stress we need to identify these unhealthy habits and do our best to try and eliminate them. Researchers believe that laughter can reduce the stress. Laughter helps us take our mind off the stressor and put our mind someplace else. Another popular coping method is the use and practice of mediation. Meditation can actually give us more time by making our mind calmer and more focused. A simple ten or fifteen minute breathing meditation can help us to overcome our stress and find some inner peace and balance.

Denisha Sahadevan

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The Effects of Stress