Stress is a psychological and physiological response to events that upset our personal balance in some way. When faced with a threat, whether to our physical safety or emotional equilibrium, the body’s defenses kick into high gear in a rapid, automatic process known as the “fight-or-flight” response. We all know what this stress response feels like: hearts pounding in the chest, muscles tensing up breathe coming faster, every sense on red alert.
Chronic stress can be the result of a host of irritating hassles or a long-term life condition, such as a difficult job situation or living with a chronic disease. In people who have higher levels of chronic stress, the stress response lasts longer. Over time, chronic stress can have an effect on: The immune system. Under stress, the body becomes more vulnerable to illnesses, from colds and minor infections to major diseases. If you have a chronic illness such as AIDS, stress can make the symptoms worse.
Stress that continues without relief can lead to a condition called distress — a negative stress reaction. Distress can lead to physical symptoms including headaches, upset stomach, elevated blood pressure, chest pain, and problems sleeping. Research suggests that stress also can bring on or worsen certain symptoms or diseases. Stress also becomes harmful when people use alcohol, tobacco, or drugs to try to relieve their stress. Unfortunately, instead of relieving the stress and returning the body to a relaxed state, these substances tend to keep the body in a stressed state and cause more problems.
Stress can cause headaches, irritable bowel syndrome, eating disorder, allergies, insomnia, backaches, frequent cold and fatigue to diseases such as hypertension, asthma, diabetes, heart ailments and even cancer. In fact, Sanjay Chugh, a leading Indian psychologist, says that 70 per cent to 90 per cent of adults visit primary care physicians for stress-related problems. Scary enough.
But where do we err?
Stress is difficult for scientists to define because it is a highly subjective phenomenon that differs for each of us. Things that are distressful for some individuals can be pleasurable for others. We also respond to stress differently. Some people blush, some eat more while others grow pale or eat less.
Also, the effects of stress include the body’s tendency to break down white blood cells when it is stressed. Unfortunately, white blood cells are used to fight disease and breaking them down cause immune system depletion and make people more vulnerable to disease. Thus, if you do not slow down, your body will be slowed down for you with a cold or a bout of the flu. This explains why many people tend to become ill when they are under pressure for long periods of time.
You have some control over your reaction to stress. You can learn to relax and reverse the body’s hormonal response to stress. And, of course, you may be able to change your life to relieve sources of stress.
Something else that affects people’s responses to stress is coping style. Coping style is how a person deals with stress. For example, some people have a problem-solving attitude. They say to them, “What can I do about this problem?” They try to change their situation to get rid of the stress.