What Is Stress?
Which of the following situations do you think cause stress?
- The death of a significant other
- Getting the job you've always wanted
- Having a baby
- Moving into the house of your dreams
- Sleeping less than seven hours a night
- Starting a new exercise program
You might be surprised to learn that all of the above can create stress. Stressors are events or circumstances that trigger a stress response, and these events can range from things that people want and enjoy, as well as from things that are disagreeable. Worrying in anticipation about things that haven't happened (and might not even happen) can also cause stress that affects your body and mind.
Your own reaction to a particular stressor may be very different from another person’s, but with awareness, you can develop control over your response.
Stress is normal
Stress is a normal part of life. The body's stress responses are your first line of defense in life-threatening situations. If you encounter a lion in the jungle or a mugger on the street, stress triggers your body to produce an adrenalin rush that helps you run away faster or defend yourself with greater speed, strength, and quick decision-making. Stressors cause the body to prepare for fight or flight with an increased heart rate, elevated respiration, and changes in blood flow.
Stress also serves as a stimulus to act and grow, which helps you adapt to ever-changing and ever-demanding environments. Therefore, stress in and of itself isn't negative. It's part of human life.
Prolonged stress is the issue
While stress is a normal part of life, prolonged stress is another story. Daily life doesn't usually require you to flee from a lion in the jungle, so it doesn't help your mind or body to continuously respond as if you are doing so.
Unfortunately, the human body responds to any stress in the same biological ways it responds to the lion, even though these responses are often unhelpful in dealing with the stress.
Rapid societal change in the past 40 years has led to prolonged stress for many people. Subsequently, the prevalence of stress-related illness has climbed at an alarming rate. And perceived stressors can be just as harmful as real ones—for example, worrying in anticipation why your boss asked you to her office tomorrow will cause you a significant amount of stress, even if the meeting results in a promotion!
Fortunately, there are ways to work with prolonged stress that can help alleviate the negative effects it may have on health and wellbeing.