What is stress?

By Charles Hopkins Published 08/8/2006 | Health

Stress has often been mistaken for general fatigue or tiredness. However, stress is a serious problem and often requires medical attention. Most medical experts describe stress as an excessive physical, mental or emotional pressure that an individual faces during the day.

It is important to understand that stress is something that is not picked up as you grow older. Stress symptoms can be seen in both children and adults. Our body is equipped with a natural stress response system that starts functioning when we find ourselves facing tough or dangerous situations. It works by releasing stress hormones like epinephrine, non-epinephrine and cortisol.

These are catecholamines that help the body to prepare for flight or fight. There is an increase in the blood pressure, heart rate and the breathing rate of a person as well. The brain functions faster and more oxygen is supplied to the muscles. Fear is another reason for the body to release stress hormones. That is why stress hormones are also called fight, fear or flight hormones.

Sometimes stress can help you and this is called positive stress. However, if you feel depressed or the day simply feels too stretched then you are suffering from negative stress. This kind of stress is not good. As a starting measure you should try and find the cause of the stress and take necessary help to get rid of it.

The stimulus that is required to initiate a stress response is called stressor. The stressor can be external or internal. External stressors can be associated with the environment and the surroundings. Any dissatisfaction in the work or the home environment can be a major reason for stress. There are always chances that you might develop stress related disorders also.

It has been estimated that almost 90% of the diseases are a result of unrelenting stress a person might be subjected to in his daily routine. Sometimes even minor things like a change in the weather or attending a function you do not want to can cause stress.

Internal stressors are emotional and psychological in nature. They stem from problems in managing relationships and finance. A person who has suffered physical or emotional abuse at some stage in their lives is victim of psychological stress. These individuals are more prone to depression and its related disorders.

Stress can also be classified as acute or chronic stress. Acute stress is short lived, and elicits a fight or flight response from the body. In either case, there is a sudden increase in the levels of the stress hormones in the body to counterattack. Once the problem is resolved the hormone levels return to normal. Some of the stressors that initiate an acute response are hunger, sudden danger or an infection. Sometimes even crowding or isolation can be stressful.

Chronic stress has a more long-term effect on a person. The causes can be a disrupted relationship or financial problems. Sometimes chronic stress can be work related. It is more harmful than acute stress since the person is subjected to it daily. In response to stress the person can become emotionally sensitive and depressed. Suicides in these cases are also not uncommon.