These demands can be related to finances, work, relationships, and other situations, but anything that poses a real or perceived challenge or threat to a person’s well-being can cause stress.
Stress can be a motivator. It can be essential to survival. The “fight-or-flight” mechanism can tell us when and how to respond to danger. However, if this mechanism is triggered too easily, or when there are too many stressors at one time, it can undermine a person’s mental and physical health and become harmful.
Fast facts on stress:Here are some key points about stress. More detail is in the main article.
- Stress helps the body prepare to face danger.
- The symptoms can be both physical and psychological.
- Short-term stress can be helpful, but long-term stress is linked to various health conditions.
- We can prepare for stress by learning some self-management tips.
What is stress?
Each person responds to stress in a different way, but too much stress can lead to health problems.
Stress is the body’s natural defense against predators and danger. It flushes the body with hormones to prepare systems to evade or confront danger. This is known as the “fight-or-flight” mechanism.
When we are faced with a challenge, part of our response is physical. The body activates resources to protect us by preparing us either to stay and fight or to get away as fast as possible.
The body produces larger quantities of the chemicals cortisol, adrenaline, and noradrenaline. These trigger an increased heart rate, heightened muscle preparedness, sweating, and alertness. All these factors improve the ability to respond to a hazardous or challenging situation.
Factors of the environment that trigger this reaction are called stressors. Examples include noises, aggressive behavior, a speeding car, scary moments in movies, or even going out on a first date. The more stressors we experience, the more stressed we tend to feel.
Changes to the body
Stress slows normal bodily functions, such as the digestive and immune systems. All resources can then be concentrated on rapid breathing, blood flow, alertness, and muscle use.
The body changes in the following ways during stress:
- blood pressure and pulse rate rise
- breathing is faster
- the digestive system slows down
- immune activity decreases
- the muscles become tense
- a heightened state of alertness prevents sleep
How we react to a difficult situation will affect how stress affects us and our health. A person who feels they do not have enough resources to cope will be more likely to have a stronger reaction, and one that can trigger health problems. Stressors affect individuals in different ways.
Some experiences that are generally considered positive can lead to stress, such as having a baby, going on a trip, moving to a nicer house, and being promoted.
This is because they often involve a major change, extra effort, new responsibilities, and a need for adaptation. They are also steps into the unknown. The person wonders if they will cope.
A persistently negative response to challenges can have a detrimental effect on health and happiness. However, being aware of how you react to stressors can help reduce the negative feelings and effects of stress, and to manage it more effectively.