Stress can be defined psychologically or biologically. In both cases, it describes how people respond to emotional or physical situations that can be deemed threatening or extremely demanding. Whenever the body launches into the "fight or flight" response, stress is initiated.
Biologically, stress can be categorized into two major types, eustress (or "good" stress) and distress (or "bad" stress), which can both be further defined as acute or chronic. Generally today, when people talk about stress and its impacts, they are referring to distress.
Eustress is usually known as the "good" stress that can be helpful and beneficial to an individual, as it allows the person to fully explore and maximize his or her potential. Eustress prepares the individual physically, emotionally and cognitively for the strength needed to tackle whatever is about to happen. Eustress is triggered by the body's fight or flight response. In this case, blood pressure and heart rate increases until the duration passes. Because the level of dopamine and oxytocin, also known as the "feel good" hormones, increases during periods of eustress, the individual may gain a sense of well-being, physiologically.
One example of eustress is the strength and excitement an athlete feels right before playing, which is usually carried into the actual game, helping the athlete perform well. The feeling is similar to that of an adrenaline rush, but it usually happens through the duration of an event. Another example of eustress can be the inspirational "flow" that artists and creative minds experience.
Distress, on the other hand, is known as "bad" stress that can undermine and be harmful to an individual. Although distress is also triggered by the body's fight or flight response, it almost always has negative symptoms and signs. During this time, blood pressure and heart rate also increase, as well as "emergency" hormones, cortisol and adrenaline. Since such hormones are inflammatory, long-term production of both hormones will be harmful to the body.
Chronic stress, if left untreated, has been shown to lead to serious medical conditions that can be deadly. Studies have shown that disabling conditions such as stroke, heart attacks, obesity and aneurysms have correlation to chronic distress. Since the body will be constantly producing cortisol and adrenaline, other significant endocrine problems may also occur later in life. Hypertension and serious cases of depression can also result from untreated chronic distress.
Distress can also be categorized into four categories: cognitive, emotional, physical and behavioral.
Cognitive: Cognitive stress impacts the mind of an affected individual. Examples may include forgetfulness, anxiety or loss of concentration.
Emotional: Emotional stress affects a person psychologically, and often impacts the affected individual's close friends and family. Examples include mood swings, increased irritability, and depression.
Physical: Physical stress affects the physiological body. Examples include stiff muscles and joints, irregular bowel movement, and decreased libido.
Behavioral: Behavioral stress can possibly be impacting your daily routine and the way you normally do things. Examples include insomnia, change in eating habits, or reliance on drugs and alcohol for relaxation.
Today, many medical professionals still see stress as both a psychological and a biological response of the human body, and often use both approaches to diagnose and identify the presence of stress. The term "stress" has also come to commonly describe distress (versus eustress) and usually refers to its adverse impacts on one's quality of life. Make sure you see your doctor today if you suspect that stress has negatively impacted the quality of your life, so he or she can give you tips to alleviate the condition.