May 7th 2016

What is stress?

Stress is a normal biological and psychological response to events that threaten or upset the body or mind in one way or another. The threatening "danger" varies for each individual; it can range from a negative remark from another person to a looming deadline for a project, and can be real or imagined. In such cases, the body switches into a fight-or-flight mode, commonly referred to as "survival mode," to prepare the individual to defend or tackle the issue at hand. In response to stress, the body will secrete appropriate hormones to keep the body on its toes. However, if stress becomes chronic, then it may be harmful to the body and mind.

Generally, there are two types of stress: eustress, "good" stress, and "distress," bad stress. Eustress can be described as the cathartic experience during or after a workout at the gym, or the thrill experienced during a roller coaster ride for some. Rather than impacting the body in a negative way, eustress may make individuals feel more energized and have a sense of accomplishment. Distress, on the other hand, is the type of stress that most people refer to or seek solutions for, as it usually undermines the health of affected individuals. While acute stress is normal and almost unavoidable, chronic stress is something that should be prevented if possible. Not only will chronic distress significantly lower the quality of life, but it will also pave the road for serious medical conditions in the future.

There are many signs and symptoms that hint at the exposure to chronic stress. For example, someone who is under constant stress may experience an increase in forgetfulness, problems with memory, and anxiety. When stress affects someone emotionally, the affected may have increased mood swings, have shorter tempers, and stop enjoy doing things that he or she used to find pleasure in. Physiologically, the affected individual may have bowel problems, tense shoulders or small but persistent colds. It is important to see a health professional if you are experiencing these symptoms or warning signs of chronic stress.

If the warning signs of chronic stress are left untreated, then the stress can lead to life-threatening medical and psychological conditions in the long run. For example, constant exposure to chronic stress may lead to depression for some individuals, and the risk of suicide can significantly increase. Since increased heart rate and blood pressure is a physiological trait of stress, it can eventually lead to future heart problems, even strokes. Obesity, a common health problem generator, often happens from disrupted diets due to stress. Inflammatory hormones, which are secreted generously during times of stress, can further damage organs and set the stage for bowel and endocrine diseases. Lastly, studies also show that chronic stress has also been linked with cancer.

Fortunately, there are many ways that stress can be alleviated or prevented. Since acute stress is almost unavoidable in our everyday lives, it is important to seek methods to alleviate stress at all times so it does not become chronic. Simple lifestyle and diet changes can significantly mitigate chronic stress and its long-term negative effects. The quickest way to dissipate stress is perhaps through physical exercise, such as a short, brisk walk around the neighborhood, or even doing some stretches in your cubicle. While eustress is generated during exercise, it can actually help combat the negative effects of distress and rejuvenate the body and mind. Diet changes, such as the intake of omega vitamins, have also shown to help prevent chronic stress. Individuals who have strong, supportive social circles with a positive mindset are less prone to the negative effects of chronic stress. For some, alternative therapy like acupuncture and yoga can help, while prescribed medication and psychotherapy may help others. Either way, if you choose to undergo any form of treatment, it is best to seek the advice of a medical professional.

While stress is an unavoidable factor in our daily lives, it is still possible to alleviate and prevent the negative impacts of chronic stress, and it can be easily monitored and controlled. In fact, use stress to cure stress. Increase your eustress, and you can dissipate your distress. Go on a small walk with a friend today to alleviate stress, or seek the opinion of a healthcare professional if you suspect that stress as negatively impacted your quality of life.

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