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What Is Stress?
Your Body's Response to a Situation That Requires Attention or Action
Elizabeth Scott, PhD is an author, workshop leader, educator, and award-winning blogger on stress management, positive psychology, relationships, and emotional wellbeing.
- Next in How Stress Impacts Your Health Guide How to Recognize Burnout Symptoms
Stress can be defined as any type of change that causes physical , emotional, or psychological strain. Stress is your body's response to anything that requires attention or action.
Everyone experiences stress to some degree. The way you respond to stress, however, makes a big difference to your overall well-being.
Verywell / Brianna Gilmartin
Sometimes, the best way to manage your stress involves changing your situation. At other times, the best strategy involves changing the way you respond to the situation.
Developing a clear understanding of how stress impacts your physical and mental health is important. It's also important to recognize how your mental and physical health affects your stress level.
Watch Now: 5 Ways Stress Can Cause Weight Gain
Signs of stress.
Stress can be short-term or long-term. Both can lead to a variety of symptoms, but chronic stress can take a serious toll on the body over time and have long-lasting health effects.
Some common signs of stress include:
- Changes in mood
- Clammy or sweaty palms
- Decreased sex drive
- Difficulty sleeping
- Digestive problems
- Feeling anxious
- Frequent sickness
- Grinding teeth
- Muscle tension, especially in the neck and shoulders
- Physical aches and pains
- Racing heartbeat
What does stress feel like? What does stress feel like? It often contributes to irritability, fear, overwork, and frustration. You may feel physically exhausted, worn out, and unable to cope.
Stress is not always easy to recognize, but there are some ways to identify some signs that you might be experiencing too much pressure. Sometimes stress can come from an obvious source, but sometimes even small daily stresses from work, school, family, and friends can take a toll on your mind and body.
If you think stress might be affecting you, there are a few things you can watch for:
- Psychological signs such as difficulty concentrating, worrying, anxiety, and trouble remembering
- Emotional signs such as being angry, irritated, moody, or frustrated
- Physical signs such as high blood pressure, changes in weight, frequent colds or infections, and changes in the menstrual cycle and libido
- Behavioral signs such as poor self-care, not having time for the things you enjoy, or relying on drugs and alcohol to cope
Stress vs. Anxiety
Stress can sometimes be mistaken for anxiety, and experiencing a great deal of stress can contribute to feelings of anxiety. Experiencing anxiety can make it more difficult to cope with stress and may contribute to other health issues, including increased depression, susceptibility to illness, and digestive problems.
Stress and anxiety contribute to nervousness, poor sleep, high blood pressure , muscle tension, and excess worry. In most cases, stress is caused by external events, while anxiety is caused by your internal reaction to stress. Stress may go away once the threat or the situation resolves, whereas anxiety may persist even after the original stressor is gone.
Causes of Stress
There are many different things in life that can cause stress. Some of the main sources of stress include work, finances, relationships, parenting, and day-to-day inconveniences.
Stress can trigger the body’s response to a perceived threat or danger, known as the fight-or-flight response . During this reaction, certain hormones like adrenaline and cortisol are released. This speeds the heart rate, slows digestion, shunts blood flow to major muscle groups, and changes various other autonomic nervous functions, giving the body a burst of energy and strength.
Originally named for its ability to enable us to physically fight or run away when faced with danger, the fight-or-flight response is now activated in situations where neither response is appropriate—like in traffic or during a stressful day at work.
When the perceived threat is gone, systems are designed to return to normal function via the relaxation response . But in cases of chronic stress, the relaxation response doesn't occur often enough, and being in a near-constant state of fight-or-flight can cause damage to the body.
Stress can also lead to some unhealthy habits that have a negative impact on your health. For example, many people cope with stress by eating too much or by smoking. These unhealthy habits damage the body and create bigger problems in the long-term.
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Types of Stress
Not all types of stress are harmful or even negative. Some of the different types of stress that you might experience include:
- Acute stress : Acute stress is a very short-term type of stress that can either be positive or more distressing; this is the type of stress we most often encounter in day-to-day life.
- Chronic stress : Chronic stress is stress that seems never-ending and inescapable, like the stress of a bad marriage or an extremely taxing job; chronic stress can also stem from traumatic experiences and childhood trauma.
- Episodic acute stress : Episodic acute stress is acute stress that seems to run rampant and be a way of life, creating a life of ongoing distress.
- Eustress : Eustress is fun and exciting. It's known as a positive type of stress that can keep you energized. It's associated with surges of adrenaline, such as when you are skiing or racing to meet a deadline.
4 Main Types of Stress:
The main harmful types of stress are acute stress, chronic stress, and episodic acute stress. Acute stress is usually brief, chronic stress is prolonged, and episodic acute stress is short-term but frequent. Positive stress, known as eustress, can be fun and exciting, but it can also take a toll.
Impact of Stress
Stress can have several effects on your health and well-being. It can make it more challenging to deal with life's daily hassles, affect your interpersonal relationships, and have detrimental effects on your health. The connection between your mind and body is apparent when you examine stress's impact on your life.
Feeling stressed over a relationship, money, or living situation can create physical health issues. The inverse is also true. Health problems, whether you're dealing with high blood pressure or diabetes , will also affect your stress level and mental health. When your brain experiences high degrees of stress , your body reacts accordingly.
Serious acute stress, like being involved in a natural disaster or getting into a verbal altercation, can trigger heart attacks, arrhythmias, and even sudden death. However, this happens mostly in individuals who already have heart disease.
Stress also takes an emotional toll. While some stress may produce feelings of mild anxiety or frustration, prolonged stress can also lead to burnout , anxiety disorders , and depression.
Chronic stress can have a serious impact on your health as well. If you experience chronic stress, your autonomic nervous system will be overactive, which is likely to damage your body.
- Heart disease
- Sexual dysfunction
- Tooth and gum disease
Treatments for Stress
Stress is not a distinct medical diagnosis and there is no single, specific treatment for it. Treatment for stress focuses on changing the situation, developing stress coping skills , implementing relaxation techniques, and treating symptoms or conditions that may have been caused by chronic stress.
Some interventions that may be helpful include therapy, medication, and complementary and alternative medicine (CAM).
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Some forms of therapy that may be particularly helpful in addressing symptoms of stress including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) . CBT focuses on helping people identify and change negative thinking patterns, while MBSR utilizes meditation and mindfulness to help reduce stress levels.
Medication may sometimes be prescribed to address some specific symptoms that are related to stress. Such medications may include sleep aids, antacids, antidepressants, and anti-anxiety medications.
Complementary and Alternative Medicine
Some complementary approaches that may also be helpful for reducing stress include acupuncture, aromatherapy, massage, yoga, and meditation .
Coping With Stress
Although stress is inevitable, it can be manageable. When you understand the toll it takes on you and the steps to combat stress, you can take charge of your health and reduce the impact stress has on your life.
- Learn to recognize the signs of burnout. High levels of stress may place you at a high risk of burnout. Burnout can leave you feeling exhausted and apathetic about your job. When you start to feel symptoms of emotional exhaustion, it's a sign that you need to find a way to get a handle on your stress.
- Try to get regular exercise. Physical activity has a big impact on your brain and your body . Whether you enjoy Tai Chi or you want to begin jogging, exercise reduces stress and improves many symptoms associated with mental illness.
- Take care of yourself. Incorporating regular self-care activities into your daily life is essential to stress management. Learn how to take care of your mind, body, and spirit and discover how to equip yourself to live your best life.
- Practice mindfulness in your life. Mindfulness isn't just something you practice for 10 minutes each day. It can also be a way of life. Discover how to live more mindfully throughout your day so you can become more awake and conscious throughout your life.
If you or a loved one are struggling with stress, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.
For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database .
Cleveland Clinic. Stress .
National institute of Mental Health. I'm so stressed out! Fact sheet .
Goldstein DS. Adrenal responses to stress . Cell Mol Neurobiol . 2010;30(8):1433–1440. doi:10.1007/s10571-010-9606-9
Stahl JE, Dossett ML, LaJoie AS, et al. Relaxation response and resiliency training and its effect on healthcare resource utilization [published correction appears in PLoS One . 2017 Feb 21;12 (2):e0172874]. PLoS One . 2015;10(10):e0140212. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0140212
American Heart Association. Stress and Heart Health.
Chi JS, Kloner RA. Stress and myocardial infarction . Heart . 2003;89(5):475–476. doi:10.1136/heart.89.5.475
Salvagioni DAJ, Melanda FN, Mesas AE, González AD, Gabani FL, Andrade SM. Physical, psychological and occupational consequences of job burnout: A systematic review of prospective studies . PLoS One . 2017;12(10):e0185781. Published 2017 Oct 4. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0185781
Bitonte RA, DeSanto DJ 2nd. Mandatory physical exercise for the prevention of mental illness in medical students . Ment Illn . 2014;6(2):5549. doi:10.4081/mi.2014.5549
Ayala EE, Winseman JS, Johnsen RD, Mason HRC. U.S. medical students who engage in self-care report less stress and higher quality of life . BMC Med Educ . 2018;18(1):189. doi:10.1186/s12909-018-1296-x
Richards KC, Campenni CE, Muse-Burke JL. Self-care and well-being in mental health professionals: The mediating effects of self-awareness and mindfulness . J Ment Health Couns . 2010;32(3):247. doi:10.17744/mehc.32.3.0n31v88304423806.
American Psychological Association. 2015 Stress in America .
Krantz DS, Whittaker KS, Sheps DS. Psychosocial risk factors for coronary heart disease: Pathophysiologic mechanisms . In R. Allan & J. Fisher, Heart and mind: The practice of cardiac psychology. American Psychological Association; 2011:91-113. doi:10.1037/13086-004
By Elizabeth Scott, PhD Elizabeth Scott, PhD is an author, workshop leader, educator, and award-winning blogger on stress management, positive psychology, relationships, and emotional wellbeing.
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The impact of stress on body function: A review
1 Neurosciences Research Center, Baqiyatallah University of Medical Sciences, Tehran, Iran
2 Clinical Pharmacy Department, Faculty of Pharmacy, Baqiyatallah University of Medical Sciences, Tehran, Iran
Thomas p. johnston.
3 Division of Pharmaceutical Sciences, School of Pharmacy, University of Missouri-Kansas City, Kansas City, Missouri, USA
4 Biotechnology Research Center, Mashhad University of Medical Sciences, Mashhad, Iran
Any intrinsic or extrinsic stimulus that evokes a biological response is known as stress. The compensatory responses to these stresses are known as stress responses. Based on the type, timing and severity of the applied stimulus, stress can exert various actions on the body ranging from alterations in homeostasis to life-threatening effects and death. In many cases, the pathophysiological complications of disease arise from stress and the subjects exposed to stress, e.g. those that work or live in stressful environments, have a higher likelihood of many disorders. Stress can be either a triggering or aggravating factor for many diseases and pathological conditions. In this study, we have reviewed some of the major effects of stress on the primary physiological systems of humans.
ACTH: Adrenocorticotropic hormone
CNS: Central nervous system
CRH: Corticotropin releasing hormone
LTP: Long-term potentiation
NMDA : N-methyl-D-aspartate
VTA: Ventral tegmental area
Stress and the Brain Function Complications
For a long time, researchers suggested that hormones have receptors just in the peripheral tissues and do not gain access to the central nervous system (CNS) (Lupien and Lepage, 2001[ 63 ]). However, observations have demonstrated the effect of anti-inflammatory drugs (which are considered synthetic hormones) on behavioral and cognitive disorders and the phenomenon called “Steroid psychosis” (Clark et al., 1952[ 16 ]). In the early sixties, neuropeptides were recognized as compounds devoid of effects on the peripheral endocrine system. However, it was determined that hormones are able to elicit biological effects on different parts of the CNS and play an important role in behavior and cognition (De Kloet, 2000[ 22 ]). In 1968, McEven suggested for the first time that the brain of rodents is capable of responding to glucocorticoid (as one of the operators in the stress cascade). This hypothesis that stress can cause functional changes in the CNS was then accepted (McEwen et al., 1968[ 74 ]). From that time on, two types of corticotropic receptors (glucocorticosteroids and mineralocorticoids) were recognized (de Kloet et al., 1999[ 23 ]). It was determined that the affinity of glucocorticosteroid receptors to cortisol and corticosterone was about one tenth of that of mineralocorticoids (de Kloet et al., 1999[ 23 ]). The hippocampus area has both types of receptors, while other points of the brain have only glucocorticosteroid receptors (de Kloet et al., 1999[ 23 ]).
The effects of stress on the nervous system have been investigated for 50 years (Thierry et al., 1968[ 115 ]). Some studies have shown that stress has many effects on the human nervous system and can cause structural changes in different parts of the brain (Lupien et al., 2009[ 65 ]). Chronic stress can lead to atrophy of the brain mass and decrease its weight (Sarahian et al., 2014[ 100 ]). These structural changes bring about differences in the response to stress, cognition and memory (Lupien et al., 2009[ 65 ]). Of course, the amount and intensity of the changes are different according to the stress level and the duration of stress (Lupien et al., 2009[ 65 ]). However, it is now obvious that stress can cause structural changes in the brain with long-term effects on the nervous system (Reznikov et al., 2007[ 89 ]). Thus, it is highly essential to investigate the effects of stress on different aspects of the nervous system (Table 1 (Tab. 1) ; References in Table 1: Lupien et al., 2001[ 63 ]; Woolley et al., 1990[ 122 ]; Sapolsky et al., 1990[ 99 ]; Gould et al., 1998[ 35 ]; Bremner, 1999[ 10 ]; Seeman et al., 1997[ 108 ]; Luine et al., 1994[ 62 ]; Li et al., 2008[ 60 ]; Scholey et al., 2014[ 101 ]; Borcel et al., 2008[ 9 ]; Lupien et al., 2002[ 66 ]).
Stress and Memory
Memory is one of the important functional aspects of the CNS and it is categorized as sensory, short term, and long-term. Short term memory is dependent on the function of the frontal and parietal lobes, while long-term memory depends on the function of large areas of the brain (Wood et al., 2000[ 121 ]). However, total function of memory and the conversion of short term memory to long-term memory are dependent on the hippocampus; an area of the brain that has the highest density of glucocorticosteroid receptors and also represents the highest level of response to stress (Scoville and Milner, 1957[ 107 ]; Asalgoo et al., 2015[ 1 ]). Therefore, during the past several decades, the relationship between the hippocampus and stress have been hotly debated (Asalgoo et al., 2015[ 1 ]; Lupien and Lepage, 2001[ 63 ]). In 1968, it was proven that there were cortisol receptors in the hippocampus of rats (McEwen et al., 1968[ 74 ]). Later, in 1982, by using specific agonists of glucocorticosteroid and mineralocorticoid receptors, the existence of these two receptors in the brain and hippocampus area of rats was proven (Veldhuis et al., 1982[ 119 ]). It should also be noted that the amygdala is very important to assessing the emotional experiences of memory (Roozendaal et al., 2009[ 91 ]).
The results of past studies have demonstrated the effect of stress on the process of memory (Ghodrat et al., 2014[ 32 ]). Various studies have shown that stress can cause functional and structural changes in the hippocampus section of the brain (McEwen, 1999[ 72 ]). These structural changes include atrophy and neurogenesis disorders (Lupien and Lepage, 2001[ 63 ]). Also, chronic stress and, consequently, an increase in plasma cortisol, leads to a reduction in the number of dendritic branches (Woolley et al., 1990[ 122 ]) and the number of neurons (Sapolsky et al., 1990[ 99 ]), as well as structural changes in synaptic terminals (Sapolsky et al., 1990[ 99 ]) and decreased neurogenesis in the hippocampus tissue (Gould et al., 1998[ 35 ]). Glucocorticosteroids can induce these changes by either effecting the cellular metabolism of neurons (Lawrence and Sapolsky, 1994[ 58 ]), or increasing the sensitivity of hippocampus cells to stimulatory amino acids (Sapolsky and Pulsinelli, 1985[ 98 ]) and/or increasing the level of extracellular glutamate (Sapolsky and Pulsinelli, 1985[ 98 ]).
High concentrations of stress hormones can cause declarative memory disorders (Lupien and Lepage, 2001[ 63 ]). Animal studies have shown that stress can cause a reversible reduction in spatial memory as a result of atrophy of the hippocampus (Luine et al., 1994[ 62 ]). In fact, high plasma concentrations of glucocorticosteroids for extended periods of time can cause atrophy of the hippocampus leading to memory disorders (Issa et al., 1990[ 45 ]). Additionally, people with either Cushing's syndrome (with an increased secretion of glucocorticosteroids), or people who receive high dosages of exogenous synthetic anti-inflammatory drugs, are observed to have atrophy of the hippocampus and associated memory disorders (Ling et al., 1981[ 61 ]). MRI images taken from the brains of people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have demonstrated a reduction in the volume of the hippocampus along with neurophysiologic effects such as a weak verbal memory (Bremner, 1999[ 10 ]). Several human studies have suggested that even common therapeutic doses of glucocorticosteroids and dexamethasone can cause problems with explicit memory (Keenan et al., 1995[ 49 ]; Kirschbaum et al., 1996[ 53 ]). Thus, there is an inverse relationship between the level of cortisol and memory (Ling et al., 1981[ 61 ]), such that increasing levels of plasma cortisol following prolonged stress leads to a reduction in memory (Kirschbaum et al., 1996[ 53 ]), which improves when the level of plasma cortisol decreases (Seeman et al., 1997[ 108 ]).
Stress also has negative effects on learning. Results from hippocampus-dependent loading data demonstrate that subjects are not as familiar with a new environment after having been exposed to a new environment (Bremner, 1999[ 10 ]). Moreover, adrenal steroids lead to alteration in long-term potentiation (LTP), which is an important process in memory formation (Bliss and Lømo, 1973[ 7 ]).
Two factors are involved in the memory process during stress. The first is noradrenaline, which creates emotional aspects of memories in the basolateral amygdala area (Joëls et al., 2011[ 47 ]). Secondly, this process is facilitated by corticosteroids. However, if the release of corticosteroids occurs a few hours earlier, it causes inhibition of the amygdala and corresponding behaviors (Joëls et al., 2011[ 47 ]). Thus, there is a mutual balance between these two hormones for creating a response in the memory process (Joëls et al., 2011[ 47 ]).
Stress does not always affect memory. Sometimes, under special conditions, stress can actually improve memory (McEwen and Lupien, 2002[ 71 ]). These conditions include non-familiarity, non-predictability, and life-threatening aspects of imposed stimulation. Under these specific conditions, stress can temporarily improve the function of the brain and, therefore, memory. In fact, it has been suggested that stress can sharpen memory in some situations (Schwabe et al., 2010[ 105 ]). For example, it has been shown that having to take a written examination can improve memory for a short period of time in examination participants. Interestingly, this condition is associated with a decrease in the level of cortisol in the saliva (Vedhara et al., 2000[ 118 ]). Other studies have shown that impending stress before learning occurs can also lead to either an increase in the power of memory (Domes et al., 2002[ 27 ]; Schwabe et al., 2008[ 102 ]), or decrease in the capacity for memory (Diamond et al., 2006[ 26 ]; Kirschbaum et al., 1996[ 53 ]). This paradox results from the type of imposed stress and either the degree of emotional connection to the stressful event (Payne et al., 2007[ 83 ]; Diamond et al., 2007[ 25 ]), or the period of time between the imposing stress and the process of learning (Diamond et al., 2007[ 25 ]).
The process of strengthening memory is usually reinforced after stress (Schwabe et al., 2012[ 103 ]). Various studies on animal and human models have shown that administration of either glucocorticosteroids, or stress shortly after learning has occurred facilitates memory (Schwabe et al., 2012[ 103 ]). Also, it has been shown that glucocorticosteroids (not mineralocorticoids) are necessary to improve learning and memory (Lupien et al., 2002[ 66 ]). However, the retrieval of events in memory after exposure to stress will be decreased (Schwabe et al., 2012[ 103 ]), which may result from the competition of updated data for storage in memory in a stressful state (de Kloet et al., 1999[ 23 ]). Some investigations have shown that either exposure to stress, or injection of glucocorticosteroids before a test to assess retention, decreases the power of memory in humans and rodents (Schwabe and Wolf, 2009[ 104 ]).
In summary, it has been concluded that the effect of stress on memory is highly dependent on the time of exposure to the stressful stimulus and, in terms of the timing of the imposed stress, memory can be either better or worse (Schwabe et al., 2012[ 103 ]). Moreover, recent studies have shown that using a specific-timed schedule of exposure to stress not only affects hippocampus-dependent memory, but also striatum-dependent memory, which highlights the role of timing of the imposed stressful stimulus (Schwabe et al., 2010[ 105 ]).
Stress, Cognition and Learning
Cognition is another important feature of brain function. Cognition means reception and perception of perceived stimuli and its interpretation, which includes learning, decision making, attention, and judgment (Sandi, 2013[ 95 ]). Stress has many effects on cognition that depend on its intensity, duration, origin, and magnitude (Sandi, 2013[ 95 ]). Similar to memory, cognition is mainly formed in the hippocampus, amygdala, and temporal lobe (McEwen and Sapolsky, 1995[ 73 ]). The net effect of stress on cognition is a reduction in cognition and thus, it is said that any behavioral steps undertaken to reduce stress leads to increase in cognition (Scholey et al., 2014[ 101 ]). In fact, stress activates some physiological systems, such as the autonomic nervous system, central neurotransmitter and neuropeptide system, and the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis, which have direct effects on neural circuits in the brain involved with data processing (Sandi, 2013[ 95 ]). Activation of stress results in the production and release of glucocorticosteroids. Because of the lipophilic properties of glucocorticosteroids, they can diffuse through the blood-brain barrier and exert long-term effects on processing and cognition (Sandi, 2013[ 95 ]).
It appears that being exposed to stress can cause pathophysiologic changes in the brain, and these changes can be manifested as behavioral, cognitive, and mood disorders (Li et al., 2008[ 60 ]). In fact, studies have shown that chronic stress can cause complications such as increased IL-6 and plasma cortisol, but decreased amounts of cAMP responsive element binding protein and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which is very similar to what is observed in people with depression and mood disorders that exhibit a wide range of cognitive problems (Song et al., 2006[ 114 ]). Additionally, the increased concentrations of inflammatory factors, like interleukins and TNF-α (which play an important role in creating cognitive disorders), proves a physiologic relationship between stress and mood-based cognitive disorders (Solerte et al., 2000[ 113 ]; Marsland et al., 2006[ 68 ]; Li et al., 2008[ 60 ]). Studies on animals suggest that cognitive disorders resulting from stress are created due to neuroendocrine and neuroamine factors and neurodegenerative processes (Li et al., 2008[ 60 ]). However, it should be noted that depression may not always be due to the over activation of the physiological-based stress response (Osanloo et al., 2016[ 81 ]).
Cognitive disorders following exposure to stress have been reported in past studies (Lupien and McEwen, 1997[ 64 ]). Stress has effects on cognition both acutely (through catecholamines) and chronically (through glucocorticosteroids) (McEwen and Sapolsky, 1995[ 73 ]). Acute effects are mainly caused by beta-adrenergic effects, while chronic effects are induced in a long-term manner by changes in gene expression mediated by steroids (McEwen and Sapolsky, 1995[ 73 ]). In general, many mechanisms modulate the effects of stress on cognition (McEwen and Sapolsky, 1995[ 73 ]; Mendl, 1999[ 75 ]). For instance, adrenal steroids affect the function of the hippocampus during cognition and memory retrieval in a biphasic manner (McEwen and Sapolsky, 1995[ 73 ]). In chronic stress, these steroids can destroy neurons with other stimulatory neurotransmitters (Sandi, 2013[ 95 ]). Exposure to stress can also cause disorders in hippocampus-related cognition; specifically, spatial memory (Borcel et al., 2008[ 9 ]; Sandi et al., 2003[ 96 ]). Additionally, stress can halt or decrease the genesis of neurons in the dentate gyrus area of the hippocampus (this area is one of the limited brain areas in which neurogenesis occurs in adults) (Gould and Tanapat, 1999[ 34 ]; Köhler et al., 2010[ 54 ]). Although age is a factor known to affect cognition, studies on animals have demonstrated that young rats exposed to high doses of adrenal steroids show the same level of decline in their cognition as older adult animals with normal plasma concentrations of glucocorticoids (Landfield et al., 1978[ 57 ]). Also, a decrease in the secretion of glucocorticosteroids causes preservation of spatial memory in adults and has also been shown to have neuroprotective effects (Montaron et al., 2006[ 78 ]). Other studies have shown that stress (or the injection of adrenal steroids) results in varied effects on cognition. For instance, injection of hydrocortisone at the time of its maximum plasma concentration (in the afternoon) leads to a decrease in reaction time and improves cognition and memory (Lupien et al., 2002[ 66 ]).
In summary, the adverse effects of stress on cognition are diverse and depend on the type, timing, intensity, and duration (Sandi, 2013[ 95 ]). Generally, it is believed that mild stress facilitates an improvement in cognitive function, especially in the case of virtual or verbal memory. However, if the intensity of stress passes beyond a predetermined threshold (which is different in each individual), it causes cognitive disorders, especially in memory and judgment. The disruption to memory and judgment is due to the effects of stress on the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex (Sandi, 2013[ 95 ]). Of course, it must be realized that factors like age and gender may also play a role in some cognitive disorders (Sandi, 2013[ 95 ]). Importantly, it should be emphasized that different people may exhibit varied responses in cognition when exposed to the very same stressful stimulus (Hatef et al., 2015[ 39 ]).
Stress and Immune System Functions
The relationship between stress and the immune system has been considered for decades (Khansari et al., 1990[ 50 ]; Dantzer and Kelley, 1989[ 21 ]). The prevailing attitude between the association of stress and immune system response has been that people under stress are more likely to have an impaired immune system and, as a result, suffer from more frequent illness (Khansari et al., 1990[ 50 ]). Also, old anecdotes describing resistance of some people to severe disease using the power of the mind and their thought processes, has promoted this attitude (Khansari et al., 1990[ 50 ]). In about 200 AC, Aelius Galenus (Galen of Pergamon) declared that melancholic women (who have high levels of stress and, thus, impaired immune function) are more likely to have cancer than women who were more positive and exposed to less stress (Reiche et al., 2004[ 88 ]). This may be the first recorded case about the relationship between the immune system and stress. In an old study in the early 1920's, researchers found that the activity of phagocytes in tuberculosis decreased when emotional stress was induced. In fact, it was also suggested that living with stress increases the risk of tuberculosis by suppressing the immune system (Ishigami, 1919[ 44 ]). Following this study, other researchers suggested that the probability of disease appearance increases following a sudden, major, and extremely stressful life style change (Holmes and Rahe, 1967[ 41 ]; Calabrese et al., 1987[ 12 ]).
Over the past several decades, there have been many studies investigating the role of stress on immune system function (Dantzer and Kelley, 1989[ 21 ]; Segerstrom and Miller, 2004[ 109 ]). These studies have shown that stress mediators can pass through the blood-brain barrier and exert their effects on the immune system (Khansari et al., 1990[ 50 ]). Thus, the effect of stress on the immune system is now an accepted relationship or association.
Stress can affect the function of the immune system by modulating processes in the CNS and neuroendocrine system (Khansari et al., 1990[ 50 ]; Kiecolt-Glaser and Glaser, 1991[ 51 ]). Following stress, some neuroendocrine and neural responses result in the release of corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH), adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), and other stress mediators (Carrasco and Van de Kar, 2003[ 13 ]). However, evidence suggests that the lymphatic system, which is a part of the immune system, also plays a role in releasing these mediators (Khansari et al., 1990[ 50 ]). For instance, thymus peptides, such as thymopentine, thymopoietin, and thymosin fraction-5, cause an increase in ACTH production (Goya et al., 1993[ 36 ]). Additionally, the existence of CRH in thymus has been proven (Redei, 1992[ 87 ]). It has also been proven that interleukin-1 released from phagocytes has a role in ACTH secretion (Berkenbosch et al., 1987[ 4 ]). On the other hand, natural or synthetic glucocorticosteroids (which are the final stress operators) are known as anti-inflammatory drugs and immune suppressants and their role in the inhibition of lymphocytes and macrophages has been demonstrated as well (Elenkov et al., 1999[ 28 ]; Reiche et al., 2004[ 88 ]). Moreover, their role in inhibiting the production of cytokines and other immune mediators and decreasing their effect on target cells during exposure to stress has also been determined (Reiche et al., 2004[ 88 ]).
In addition to adrenal steroids, other hormones are affected during stress. For example, the secretion of growth hormone will be halted during severe stress. A study showed that long-term administration of CRH into the brain ventricles leads to a cessation in the release of growth hormone (Rivier and Vale, 1985[ 90 ]). Stress also causes the release of opioid peptides to be changed during the time period over which the person is exposed to stress (McCarthy et al., 2001[ 70 ]). In fact, stress modifies the secretion of hormones that play a critical role in the function of the immune system (Khansari et al., 1990[ 50 ]). To date, it has been shown that various receptors for a variety of hormones involved in immune system function are adversely affected by stress. For example, ACTH, vasoactive intestinal peptide (VIP), substance P, growth hormone, prolactin, and steroids all have receptors in various tissues of the immune system and can modulate its function (De la Fuente et al., 1996[ 24 ]; Gala, 1991[ 30 ]; Mantyh, 1991[ 67 ]). In addition, active immune cells are also able to secrete several hormones; thus, some researchers believe that these hormones, as mediators of immune system, play a significant role in balancing its function (Blalock et al., 1985[ 6 ]).
Severe stress can lead to malignancy by suppressing the immune system (Reiche et al., 2004[ 88 ]). In fact, stress can decrease the activity of cytotoxic T lymphocytes and natural killer cells and lead to growth of malignant cells, genetic instability, and tumor expansion (Reiche et al., 2004[ 88 ]). Studies have shown that the plasma concentration of norepinephrine, which increases after the induction stress, has an inverse relationship with the immune function of phagocytes and lymphocytes (Reiche et al., 2004[ 88 ]). Lastly, catecholamines and opioids that are released following stress have immune-suppressing properties (Reiche et al., 2004[ 88 ]).
Stress and the Function of the Cardiovascular System
The existence of a positive association between stress and cardiovascular disease has been verified (Rozanski et al., 1999[ 93 ]). Stress, whether acute or chronic, has a deleterious effect on the function of the cardiovascular system (Rozanski et al., 1999[ 93 ]; Kario et al., 2003[ 48 ]; Herd, 1991[ 40 ]). The effects of stress on the cardiovascular system are not only stimulatory, but also inhibitory in nature (Engler and Engler, 1995[ 29 ]). It can be postulated that stress causes autonomic nervous system activation and indirectly affects the function of the cardiovascular system (Lazarus et al., 1963[ 59 ]; Vrijkotte et al., 2000[ 120 ]). If these effects occur upon activation of the sympathetic nervous system, then it mainly results in an increase in heart rate, strength of contraction, vasodilation in the arteries of skeletal muscles, a narrowing of the veins, contraction of the arteries in the spleen and kidneys, and decreased sodium excretion by the kidneys (Herd, 1991[ 40 ]). Sometimes, stress activates the parasympathetic nervous system (Pagani et al., 1991[ 82 ]). Specifically, if it leads to stimulation of the limbic system, it results in a decrease, or even a total stopping of the heart-beat, decreased contractility, reduction in the guidance of impulses by the heart stimulus-transmission network, peripheral vasodilatation, and a decline in blood pressure (Cohen et al., 2000[ 17 ]). Finally, stress can modulate vascular endothelial cell function and increase the risk of thrombosis and ischemia, as well as increase platelet aggregation (Rozanski et al., 1999[ 93 ]).
The initial effect of stress on heart function is usually on the heart rate (Vrijkotte et al., 2000[ 120 ]). Depending upon the direction of the shift in the sympatho-vagal response, the heart beat will either increase or decrease (Hall et al., 2004[ 38 ]). The next significant effect of stress on cardiovascular function is blood pressure (Laitinen et al., 1999[ 56 ]). Stress can stimulate the autonomic sympathetic nervous system to increase vasoconstriction, which can mediate an increase in blood pressure, an increase in blood lipids, disorders in blood clotting, vascular changes, atherogenesis; all, of which, can cause cardiac arrhythmias and subsequent myocardial infarction (Rozanski et al., 1999[ 93 ]; Vrijkotte et al., 2000[ 120 ]; Sgoifo et al., 1998[ 111 ]). These effects from stress are observed clinically with atherosclerosis and leads to an increase in coronary vasoconstriction (Rozanski et al., 1999[ 93 ]). Of course, there are individual differences in terms of the level of autonomic-based responses due to stress, which depends on the personal characteristics of a given individual (Rozanski et al., 1999[ 93 ]). Thus, training programs for stress management are aimed at reducing the consequences of stress and death resulting from heart disease (Engler and Engler, 1995[ 29 ]). In addition, there are gender-dependent differences in the cardiovascular response to stress and, accordingly, it has been estimated that women begin to exhibit heart disease ten years later that men, which has been attributed to the protective effects of the estrogen hormone (Rozanski et al., 1999[ 93 ]).
Studies have shown that psychological stress can cause alpha-adrenergic stimulation and, consequently, increase heart rate and oxygen demand (Rozanski et al., 1998[ 92 ], 1999[ 93 ]; Jiang et al., 1996[ 46 ]). As a result, coronary vasoconstriction is enhanced, which may increase the risk of myocardial infarction (Yeung et al., 1991[ 124 ]; Boltwood et al., 1993[ 8 ]; Dakak et al., 1995[ 20 ]). Several studies have demonstrated that psychological stress decreases the microcirculation in the coronary arteries by an endothelium-dependent mechanism and increases the risk of myocardial infarction (Dakak et al., 1995[ 20 ]). On the other hand, mental stress indirectly leads to potential engagement in risky behaviors for the heart, such as smoking, and directly leads to stimulation of the neuroendocrine system as part of the autonomic nervous system (Hornstein, 2004[ 43 ]). It has been suggested that severe mental stress can result in sudden death (Pignalberi et al., 2002[ 84 ]). Generally, stress-mediated risky behaviors that impact cardiovascular health can be summarized into five categories: an increase in the stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system, initiation and progression of myocardial ischemia, development of cardiac arrhythmias, stimulation of platelet aggregation, and endothelial dysfunction (Wu, 2001[ 123 ]).
Stress and Gastrointestinal Complications
The effects of stress on nutrition and the gastrointestinal (GI) system can be summarized with two aspects of GI function.
First, stress can affect appetite (Bagheri Nikoo et al., 2014[ 2 ]; Halataei et al., 2011[ 37 ]; Ranjbaran et al., 2013[ 86 ]). This effect is related to involvement of either the ventral tegmental area (VTA), or the amygdala via N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) glutamate receptors (Nasihatkon et al., 2014[ 80 ]; Sadeghi et al., 2015[ 94 ]). However, it should also be noted that nutrition patterns have effects on the response to stress (Ghanbari et al., 2015[ 31 ]), and this suggests a bilateral interaction between nutrition and stress.
Second, stress adversely affects the normal function of GI tract. There are many studies concerning the effect of stress on the function of the GI system (Söderholm and Perdue, 2001[ 112 ]; Collins, 2001[ 18 ]). For instance, studies have shown that stress affects the absorption process, intestinal permeability, mucus and stomach acid secretion, function of ion channels, and GI inflammation (Collins, 2001[ 18 ]; Nabavizadeh et al., 2011[ 79 ]). Stress also increases the response of the GI system to inflammation and may reactivate previous inflammation and accelerate the inflammation process by secretion of mediators such as substance P (Collins, 2001[ 18 ]). As a result, there is an increase in the permeability of cells and recruitment of T lymphocytes. Lymphocyte aggregation leads to the production of inflammatory markers, activates key pathways in the hypothalamus, and results in negative feedback due to CRH secretion, which ultimately results in the appearance of GI inflammatory diseases (Collins, 2001[ 18 ]). This process can reactivate previous silent colitis (Million et al., 1999[ 76 ]; Qiu et al., 1999[ 85 ]). Mast cells play a crucial role in stress-induced effects on the GI system, because they cause neurotransmitters and other chemical factors to be released that affect the function of the GI system (Konturek et al., 2011[ 55 ]).
Stress can also alter the functional physiology of the intestine (Kiliaan et al., 1998[ 52 ]). Many inflammatory diseases, such as Crohn's disease and other ulcerative-based diseases of the GI tract, are associated with stress (Hommes et al., 2002[ 42 ]). It has been suggested that even childhood stress can lead to these diseases in adulthood (Schwartz and Schwartz, 1983[ 106 ]). Irritable bowel syndrome, which is a disease with an inflammatory origin, is highly related to stress (Gonsalkorale et al., 2003[ 33 ]). Studies on various animals suggest the existence of inflammatory GI diseases following induction of severe stress (Qiu et al., 1999[ 85 ]; Collins et al., 1996[ 19 ]). Additionally, pharmacological interventions, in an attempt to decrease the response of CRH to stress, have been shown to result in an increase in GI diseases in rats (Million et al., 1999[ 76 ]).
Altering the permeability of the mucosal membrane by perturbing the functions of mucosal mast cells may be another way that stress causes its effects on the GI system, since this is a normal process by which harmful and toxic substances are removed from the intestinal lumen (Söderholm and Perdue, 2001[ 112 ]). Also, stress can both decrease the removal of water from the lumen, as well as induce sodium and chloride secretion into the lumen. This most likely occurs by increasing the activity of the parasympathetic nervous system (Barclay and Turnberg, 1987[ 3 ]). Moreover, physical stress, such as trauma or surgery, can increase luminal permeability (Söderholm and Perdue, 2001[ 112 ]) (Table 2 (Tab. 2) ; References in Table 2: Halataei et al., 2011[ 37 ]; Ranjbaran et al., 2013[ 86 ]; Mönnikes et al., 2001[ 77 ]; Collins, 2001[ 18 ]; Nabavizadeh et al., 2011[ 79 ]; Barclay and Turnberg, 1987[ 3 ]; Million et al., 1999[ 76 ]; Gonsalkorale et al., 2003[ 33 ]).
Stress also affects movement of the GI tract. In this way, it prevents stomach emptying and accelerates colonic motility (Mönnikes et al., 2001[ 77 ]). In the case of irritable bowel syndrome, stress increases the movement (contractility and motility) of the large intestine (Mönnikes et al., 2001[ 77 ]). Previous studies have revealed that CRH increases movement in the terminal sections of the GI tract and decreases the movements in the proximal sections of the GI tract (Mönnikes et al., 2001[ 77 ]). A delay in stomach emptying is likely accomplished through CRH-2 receptors, while type 1 receptors affect the colon (Mönnikes et al., 2001[ 77 ]). The effects produced by CRH are so prominent that CRH is now considered an ideal candidate for the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome (Martinez and Taché, 2006[ 69 ]). When serotonin is released in response to stress (Chaouloff, 2000[ 14 ]), it leads to an increase in the motility of the colon by stimulating 5HT-3 receptors (Mönnikes et al., 2001[ 77 ]). Moreover, it has also been suggested that stress, especially mental and emotional types of stress, increase visceral sensitivity and activate mucosal mast cells (Mönnikes et al., 2001[ 77 ]). Stimulation of the CNS by stress has a direct effect on GI-specific nervous system ( i.e. , the myenteric system or plexus) and causes the above mentioned changes in the movements of the GI tract (Bhatia and Tandon, 2005[ 5 ]). In fact, stress has a direct effect on the brain-bowel axis (Konturek et al., 2011[ 55 ]). Various clinical studies have suggested a direct effect of stress on irritable bowel syndrome, intestinal inflammation, and peptic ulcers (Konturek et al., 2011[ 55 ]).
In conclusion, the effects of stress on the GI system can be classified into six different actions: GI tract movement disorders, increased visceral irritability, altered rate and extent of various GI secretions, modified permeability of the intestinal barrier, negative effects on blood flow to the GI tract, and increased intestinal bacteria counts (Konturek et al., 2011[ 55 ]).
Stress and the Endocrine System
There is a broad and mutual relationship between stress and the endocrine system. On one hand, stress has many subtle and complex effects on the activity of the endocrine system (Sapolsky, 2002[ 97 ]; Charmandari et al., 2005[ 15 ]), while on the other hand, the endocrine system has many effects on the response to stress (Ulrich-Lai and Herman, 2009[ 117 ]; Selye, 1956[ 110 ]). Stress can either activate, or change the activity of, many endocrine processes associated with the hypothalamus, pituitary and adrenal glands, the adrenergic system, gonads, thyroid, and the pancreas (Tilbrook et al., 2000[ 116 ]; Brown-Grant et al., 1954[ 11 ]; Thierry et al., 1968[ 115 ]; Lupien and McEwen, 1997[ 64 ]). In fact, it has been suggested that it is impossible to separate the response to stress from the functions of the endocrine system. This premise has been advanced due to the fact that even a minimal amount of stress can activate the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, which itself is intricately involved with the activation of several different hormone secreting systems (Sapolsky, 2002[ 97 ]). In different locations throughout this article, we have already discussed the effects of stress on hormones and various endocrine factors and, thus, they will not be further addressed.
Altogether, stress may induce both beneficial and harmful effects. The beneficial effects of stress involve preserving homeostasis of cells/species, which leads to continued survival. However, in many cases, the harmful effects of stress may receive more attention or recognition by an individual due to their role in various pathological conditions and diseases. As has been discussed in this review, various factors, for example, hormones, neuroendocrine mediators, peptides, and neurotransmitters are involved in the body's response to stress. Many disorders originate from stress, especially if the stress is severe and prolonged. The medical community needs to have a greater appreciation for the significant role that stress may play in various diseases and then treat the patient accordingly using both pharmacological (medications and/or nutraceuticals) and non-pharmacological (change in lifestyle, daily exercise, healthy nutrition, and stress reduction programs) therapeutic interventions. Important for the physician providing treatment for stress is the fact that all individuals vary in their response to stress, so a particular treatment strategy or intervention appropriate for one patient may not be suitable or optimal for a different patient.
Yunes Panahi and Amirhossein Sahebkar (Department of Medical Biotechnology, School of Medicine, Mashhad University of Medical Sciences, Mashhad, Iran, P.O. Box: 91779-48564, Iran; Tel: 985118002288, Fax: 985118002287, E-mail: [email protected], amir_sa[email protected]) contributed equally as corresponding authors.
Conflict of interest
The authors declare that have no conflict of interest in this study.
The authors would like to thank the "Neurosciences Research Center of Baqiyatallah University of Medical Sciences" and the “Clinical Research Development Center of Baqiyatallah (a.s.) Hospital” for providing technical supports.
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How Does Your Body React to Stress?
Tell us what you’ve noticed and how you deal with it.
By Shannon Doyne
What happens to your body when you’re stressed? Do your shoulders become tense? Does your stomach roil? Do you get headaches or back pain? Can you sleep? By contrast, how does your body feel when you are calm and more carefree? Is there a big difference?
Many of us are living with chronic, unmitigated stress thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, and, according to a recent Times article, that can result in a range of physical symptoms.
In “ Your Body Knows You’re Burned Out ,” Melinda Wenner Moyer writes about work-related stress, but everything she says can apply to the lives of students as well. She talks to Jeanette M. Bennett, a researcher at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, about the physical effects:
Stress can have wear and tear effects on the body, especially when it doesn’t ease up after a while — so it makes sense that it can incite physical symptoms, too, Dr. Bennett said. When people are under stress, their bodies undergo changes that include making higher than normal levels of stress hormones such as cortisol, adrenaline, epinephrine and norepinephrine. These changes are helpful in the short term — they give us the energy to power through difficult situations — but over time, they start harming the body. Our bodies were “not designed for the kinds of stressors that we face today,” said Christina Maslach, a social psychologist at the University of California, Berkeley, who has spent her career studying burnout.
She also describes some of the symptoms, with help from Dr. Lotte Dyrbye, a physician scientist at the Mayo Clinic, and Dr. Jessi Gold, a psychiatrist at Washington University in St. Louis:
One common burnout symptom is insomnia, Dr. Dyrbye said. When researchers in Italy surveyed frontline health care workers with burnout during the first peak of the pandemic, they found that 55 percent reported having difficulty falling asleep, while nearly 40 percent had nightmares. Research suggests that chronic stress interferes with the complicated neurological and hormonal system that regulates sleep. It’s a vicious cycle, because not sleeping throws this system even more out of whack. If you’ve noticed you’re unable to sleep at night, that could be a sign that you’re experiencing burnout, Dr. Dyrbye said — and your sleeplessness could exacerbate the problem. Physical exhaustion is another common sign. Dr. Gold said that one of her key symptoms of burnout was fatigue. “I realized I was sleeping every day after work — and I was like, ‘What is wrong with me?’ but it was actually burnout,” she said. Changes in eating habits — either eating more or less than usual — can also be a sign of burnout: In the study of Italian health care workers, 56 percent reported changes in food habits. People might eat less because they’re too busy or distracted, or they might find themselves craving “those comfort foods that we all like to go to when we need something to make us feel better,” Dr. Bennett said. Research suggests , too, that stress hormones can affect appetite, making people feel less hungry than usual when they’re under a lot of stress, and more hungry than usual when that stress alleviates. Headaches and stomachaches can also be incited by burnout, Dr. Gold said. One study of people in Sweden suffering from exhaustion disorder — a medical condition similar to burnout — found that 67 percent reported experiencing nausea, gas or indigestion, and that 65 percent had headaches. It’s also important to note that burnout can develop alongside depression or anxiety, both of which can cause physical symptoms. Depression can cause muscle aches, stomachaches, sleep issues and appetite changes. Anxiety is linked to headaches, nausea and shortness of breath.
Students, read the entire article, and then tell us:
How does your body react to stress? What have you noticed about the messages it sends you? How does it let you know you have reached a limit and need to rest?
What has worked for you in dealing with these physical symptoms? In dealing with the underlying issues? What advice in this article might you try?
Right now, do you think people are more stressed than usual? Are you?
If, as the article suggests, you imagine each source of stress in your life as a pebble in your shoe, what does each pebble represent? Which sources seem to cause you the most problems? Can you think of small changes you can make to help remove or lessen some or all of your stressors, at least temporarily?
After reading the article, do you think you’ll pay more attention to the mind-body connection? How can you be more sensitive to the messages your body is sending you?
Want more writing prompts? You can find all of our questions in our Student Opinion column . Teachers, check out this guide to learn how you can incorporate them into your classroom.
Students 13 and older in the United States and Britain, and 16 and older elsewhere, are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public.
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What Is Stress and How Can I Recognize It?
Side effects, frequently asked questions.
Stress is our body's natural physical and mental response to challenges or changes. It may help you overcome obstacles and push yourself to new levels of personal growth.
When your body’s stress response system starts dysfunctioning, though, the same feelings can become barriers and limit your ability to perform at your best. Research has even shown that stress can trigger or aggravate several conditions and impair the functioning of different body systems.
Illustration by Laura Porter for Verywell Health
The body’s autonomic nervous system controls your heart rate, breathing, and other body processes that take place without conscious effort. It triggers the fight-or-flight response during stressful situations, causing an increased heart rate, dilated pupils, and more. Continued activation of this response can cause wear and tear on the body and result in physical and emotional symptoms .
Physical symptoms of stress include:
- Muscle tension
- Tension-type headaches or body pains
- Chest pain or a feeling that your heart is racing
- Paleness or flushed skin
- Headaches, dizziness, or shaking
- Shortness of breath or rapid breathing
- Increased heart rate and elevated blood pressure
- Exhaustion or trouble sleeping
- Digestive issues like bloating, diarrhea, or nausea
Emotional and mental symptoms of stress can include:
- Anxiety or irritability
- Panic attacks
How Common Are Stress Symptoms?
According to the American Psychological Association’s 2019 Stress in America survey, more than three-quarters of adults report physical or emotional symptoms of stress, such as headache, feeling tired, or changes in sleeping habits.
Ways to recognize stress include:
- Paying attention to how deeply you are breathing
- Taking note of any overeating, compulsive shopping, or other unhealthy behaviors since many people engage in these behaviors to relieve stress
- Considering how many conflicts you’re experiencing with other people
- Keeping a log of your moods over a month to see how they fluctuate
- Asking yourself how you are sleeping at night and how rested you feel
There will be times when you experience heightened levels of stress and where it seems like everything that can go wrong, does. At such moments, it can be more useful to consider not if you’re stressed, but how stressed you actually are.
Some online screening tools can help you check in with yourself are:
- Stress Screener from Mental Health America
- "Stress Fit" Test from the Heart and Stroke Foundation
There are so many things that can trigger the fight-or-flight response, which is your body's natural reaction to stress. When something or someone triggers the stress response, your body goes into immediate action to either confront the threat or flee.
Physically, when you feel stressed, what you’re actually feeling is your nervous system signaling a flood of hormones to be released from your adrenal glands , such as cortisol (the stress hormone) and epinephrine ( adrenaline ). Adrenaline is responsible for the physical symptoms you experience, such as a rapid heartbeat.
We are all wired to feel stress, but some people have a greater risk of experiencing unhealthy levels of stress than others, including:
- People who are over 50 and the caregiver of a family member
- People who have obesity
- People who have depression
Other risk factors include life stressors like:
- Growing up in a challenging environment
- Not learning or using stress management skills
- Living with chronic illness
- Being a victim of crime or abuse
- Experiencing family or financial stress, including custody and housing issues
- Not having a work-life balance
- Living in poverty
- Being homeless
- Not having a support system
- Abusing substances
Acute stress, or sudden stress, is stress that comes on quickly and resolves when the perceived or actual threat is removed. People often experience this type of stress after an unexpected life crisis like an accident, a loss, or other types of trauma.
Chronic stress is long-term stress. With this type of stress, the body never receives a clear signal to return to normal functioning. Over time, continued strain on your body from stress may contribute to serious health problems. Chronic stress is associated with immune system dysfunction and diseases, especially those related to your heart.
Eustress means beneficial stress. It is associated with excitement or motivation, such as riding a roller coaster or going to your first day at a new job.
Episodic acute stress
Episodic acute stress is when someone experiences intense stress on a regular basis. It can happen in professionals who face a great deal of high-stress situations, such as law enforcement officers, firefighters, and emergency responders.
Side effects of stress may include:
- Becoming easily distracted
- Neglecting self-care
- Losing sleep and developing insomnia
- Taking your stress out on others
- Overextending your energy
Physical and mental health conditions that can be triggered by stress or worsened by stress include:
- Metabolic disorders like obesity or diabetes
- Immune disorders
- Heart conditions
- Stress ulcers
- Anxiety disorders
Before you can address any long-term stress issues, you need to get a handle on your current levels of stress. Talk to your healthcare team about ways you can integrate some or all of the following treatment options into your everyday routine.
A therapist can help you see any patterns or connections between your current issues and stress. Therapists can also help you address underlying beliefs contributing to your stress and conflicts. When you gain better clarity of what’s causing your reactions, you are better equipped to change your stress response in the future.
Sometimes medications may be necessary to help you through a particularly stressful time. Your doctor may prescribe the following medications:
- Benzodiazepines like Valium (diazepam), Xanax (alprazolam), Klonopin (clonazepam), and Ativan (lorazepam)
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), including medications like Paxil (paroxetine), Prozac (fluoxetine), Zoloft (sertraline), and Lexapro (escitalopram)
- Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) like Effexor (venlafaxine), Cymbalta (duloxetine), and Pristiq (desvenlafaxine)
- Tricyclic antidepressants like Elavil (amitriptyline), Norpramin (desipramine), and Sinequan (doxepin)
You can try the following alternative treatments for relieving stress:
- EFT tapping
- Herbal remedies (teas, oils, tinctures)
- Massage therapy
You can’t avoid stress, but you can stop it from becoming overwhelming by practicing some daily strategies, including:
- Exercise when you feel symptoms of stress coming on. Even a short walk can boost your mood.
- At the end of each day, take a moment to think about what you’ve accomplished, not what you didn’t get done.
- Set goals for your day, week, and month. Narrowing your view will help you feel more in control of the moment and long-term tasks.
- Get regular exercise. Just 30 minutes per day of walking can help boost your mood and improve your health.
- Try a relaxing activity. Explore relaxation or wellness programs, which may incorporate meditation, muscle relaxation, or breathing exercises. Schedule regular times for these and other healthy and relaxing activities.
- Stay connected. Keep in touch with people who can provide emotional support and practical help. Ask for help from friends, family, and community or religious organizations.
What does a stress rash look like?
Stress can trigger a variety of skin flare-ups in susceptible individuals. Stress rashes vary in appearance, but most resemble hives, which are red, raised areas of skin that may be bumpy. The rash can also itch, tingle, or burn.
How do you stop stress eating?
You can stop stress eating by becoming more mindful of your eating behavior and triggers and by developing other techniques to deal with stress. You can get help from a dietitian, a doctor, or a mental health professional.
How do you make stress your friend?
You can make stress your friend by recognizing its importance and keeping it within healthy levels with daily stress-relieving activities and a healthy lifestyle. This should include a balanced diet, proper sleep, and regular exercise.
Why do men and women handle stress differently?
Men and women are said to handle stress differently to some degree because they generally have different levels and fluctuations of key hormones, including oxytocin.
Stress can motivate us, but it can also stop us from doing our best, especially when it becomes a chronic health issue. When you are stressed, you experience symptoms that are a result of your body's fight-or-flight response.
Prolonged activation of this response can potentially lead to serious health problems like heart disease. The best way to manage stress is to develop healthy coping mechanisms, such as practicing deep breathing exercises, and a healthy lifestyle.
A Word From Verywell
We all experience some level of stress at times. However, if it’s becoming a persistent problem or you’re not sure how to cope in healthy ways, it’s time to talk to a professional.
There are many external factors in our world that can contribute to stress. Although we can't control many of these, we can more readily deal with the stress we have in our homes and workplaces if we learn healthy ways of coping with it and minimizing its impact on our daily lives.
Yaribeygi H, Panahi Y, Sahraei H, Johnston TP, Sahebkar A. The impact of stress on body function: A review . EXCLI J . 2017 Jul 21;16:1057-1072. doi:10.17179/excli2017-480
Cleveland Clinic. Stress .
American Psychological Association. Stress effects on the body .
The American Psychological Association. Stress relief is within reach .
American Psychological Association. Stress in America: Our Health at Risk .
National Institute of Mental Health. 5 things you should know about stress .
Mariotti A. The effects of chronic stress on health: new insights into the molecular mechanisms of brain-body communication . Future Sci OA . 2015 Nov 1;1(3):FSO23. doi:10.4155/fso.15.21
By Michelle Pugle Michelle Pugle, MA, MHFA is a freelance health writer as seen in Healthline, Health, Everyday Health, Psych Central, and Verywell.
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Let’s Talk About Stress—and Stress Research
Director’s Page Helene M. Langevin, M.D.
July 26, 2022
Stress is a part of life for everyone, and when it comes in short bursts, it’s not necessarily bad. Our natural “fight-or-flight” response can help us mobilize our resources to meet a challenge. But when stress persists (chronic stress), it can lead to both mental and physical health problems. In fact, longstanding evidence from multiple areas of research demonstrates that chronic stress acts like a toxin, permeating our organs and cells and triggering a negative cascade on our hormones, sleep, muscles, metabolism, immune system, and inflammatory responses. And chronic systemic inflammation is emerging as a key factor underlying more than half of all deaths from chronic diseases including heart disease, cancer, diabetes, chronic kidney disease, and nonalcoholic fatty liver.
Chronic stress has long been a focus of research for the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), and the interplay between the effects of stress on the mind and the body is an important area of research to me, personally. Many NCCIH-supported studies have looked at the potential role of complementary and integrative health interventions in helping people manage stress and its consequences. Let’s look at one area of research—the effect of stress management interventions on people who are living with a long-term health condition.
With funding from NCCIH, a group of researchers led by Dr. Lori Scott-Sheldon, who was then with The Miriam Hospital in Rhode Island, performed a series of systematic reviews on stress management for people with chronic diseases. The reviews looked at both psychological and physical effects of the interventions, and their findings were promising. For example:
- A review of studies on stress management interventions for adults with heart failure showed improvements in anxiety, depressive symptoms, quality of life, and exercise capacity in people who participated in these interventions.
- A review on mindfulness-based interventions for people living with HIV/AIDS showed reductions in anxiety and depressive symptoms and improved quality of life.
- A review of the evidence on yoga interventions for people living with HIV/AIDS showed improvements in perceived stress, positive affect, and anxiety.
- A review on mindfulness-based interventions for adults with cardiovascular disease showed improvements in anxiety, depression, distress, perceived stress, and systolic blood pressure.
- And finally, a review of yoga interventions for people with type 2 diabetes linked participation in yoga with improvements in measures of glycemic control (HbA1c and both fasting and postprandial [after eating] blood glucose) and in several risk factors for complications of diabetes—blood lipids, body mass index, waist/hip ratio, and cortisol levels (a measure related to the body’s stress response).
The diabetes review doesn’t give us final answers about the value of yoga, though, for two reasons: First, all the studies included in the review were performed outside the United States (most of them in India), and findings obtained in one population may not apply to another. Second, the studies were of only low-to-medium methodological quality, and some important study details were not available.
Fortunately, new research supported by NCCIH may help fill these gaps. Dr. Beth Bock, also of The Miriam Hospital, is leading rigorous NCCIH-funded studies to evaluate the potential role of yoga in diabetes management in U.S. populations, and this work is in progress now. An earlier pilot study showed that the yoga intervention Dr. Bock is testing was highly feasible and acceptable among people with diabetes and that it produced improvements in both psychosocial measures and blood glucose.
Whether or not we face major challenges in our lives the way that people with diabetes or other chronic health problems do, we all need to recognize the importance of stress and the impact it may be having on us. Addressing stress isn’t just about feeling better; it’s about fundamentally promoting health. We can all benefit from learning methods to mitigate stress that have well-documented beneficial effects on inflammation, oxidative stress, stress hormones, blood pressure, blood sugar, and sleep. Some of these tools, such as deep breathing and relaxation techniques, are easy to learn and can help “press reset on stress” —anytime, anywhere. And doing so can have cumulative effects — preventing stress from building up during the day, and giving us a better night’s sleep and more energy the next day for physical activity, which itself helps relieve stress. Think of it as a “positive snowball” effect, leading to better health.
And for those of us in the research community, including NCCIH, learning more about how to prevent, manage, and mitigate stress—and how best to put existing stress management tools into practice—will continue to be a high priority.
- Stress Fact Sheet
- Feeling Stressed? Ways To Improve Your Well-Being (NIH News in Health)
- Stress Reset Video (The Healthy US Collaborative)
Past Messages From the Director
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The impact of stress on body function: A review
- 1 Neurosciences Research Center, Baqiyatallah University of Medical Sciences, Tehran, Iran.
- 2 Clinical Pharmacy Department, Faculty of Pharmacy, Baqiyatallah University of Medical Sciences, Tehran, Iran.
- 3 Division of Pharmaceutical Sciences, School of Pharmacy, University of Missouri-Kansas City, Kansas City, Missouri, USA.
- 4 Biotechnology Research Center, Mashhad University of Medical Sciences, Mashhad, Iran.
- PMID: 28900385
- PMCID: PMC5579396
- DOI: 10.17179/excli2017-480
Any intrinsic or extrinsic stimulus that evokes a biological response is known as stress. The compensatory responses to these stresses are known as stress responses. Based on the type, timing and severity of the applied stimulus, stress can exert various actions on the body ranging from alterations in homeostasis to life-threatening effects and death. In many cases, the pathophysiological complications of disease arise from stress and the subjects exposed to stress, e.g. those that work or live in stressful environments, have a higher likelihood of many disorders. Stress can be either a triggering or aggravating factor for many diseases and pathological conditions. In this study, we have reviewed some of the major effects of stress on the primary physiological systems of humans.
Keywords: homeostasis; physiology; stress.
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Stress symptoms: Effects on your body and behavior
Stress symptoms may be affecting your health, even though you might not know it. You may blame sickness for that annoying headache, your sleeping troubles, feeling unwell or your lack of focus at work. But stress may really be the cause.
Common effects of stress
Stress symptoms can affect your body, your thoughts and feelings, and your behavior. Knowing common stress symptoms can help you manage them. Stress that's not dealt with can lead to many health problems, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, obesity and diabetes.
Act to manage stress
If you have stress symptoms, taking steps to manage your stress can have many health benefits. Check out many possible stress management tips. For example:
- Get regular physical activity on most days of the week.
- Practice relaxation techniques. Try deep breathing, meditation, yoga, tai chi or massage.
- Keep a sense of humor.
- Spend time with family and friends.
- Set aside time for hobbies. Read a book, listen to music or go for a walk. Schedule time for your passions.
- Write in a journal.
- Get enough sleep.
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet.
- Stay away from tobacco and alcohol use, and use of illegal substances.
Aim to find active ways to manage your stress. Idle ways to manage stress that don't get you moving may seem relaxing. But they may make your stress go up over time. Examples are watching television, going on the internet or playing video games.
When to ask for help
If you're not sure if stress is the cause, or if you've taken steps to control your stress but you keep having symptoms, see your health care provider. Your health care provider may want to check for other potential causes. Or think about seeing a counselor or therapist, who can help you find the sources of your stress and learn new coping tools. And if you are concerned about harming yourself, call 911 or a suicide hotline.
Also, get emergency help right away if you have chest pain, especially if you also have shortness of breath; jaw, back, shoulder or arm pain; sweating; dizziness; or nausea. These may be warning signs of a heart attack and not simply stress symptoms.
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- How stress affects your health. American Psychological Association. https://www.apa.org/helpcenter/stress. Accessed Jan. 25, 2023.
- Stress and your health. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. https://www.womenshealth.gov/mental-health/good-mental-health/stress-and-your-health. Accessed Jan. 24, 2023.
- Manage stress. Healthfinder.gov. http://healthfinder.gov/healthtopics/population/men/mental-health-and-relationships/manage-stress. Accessed Jan. 25, 2023.
- Warning signs of a heart attack. American Heart Association. https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/heart-attack/warning-signs-of-a-heart-attack#.VsZCDtj2bIU. Accessed Jan. 25, 2023.
- Seaward BL. Essentials of Managing Stress. 5th ed. Jones & Bartlett Learning; 2021.
- Creagan ET (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic. Feb. 14, 2023.
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Stress - List of Essay Samples And Topic Ideas
In our fast-paced and demanding world, stress has become an ever-present companion in our lives. It affects us mentally, physically, and emotionally, leaving a lasting impact on our well-being. By digging deeper into the field of psychology, we can unravel the tangled web of factors that contribute to stress. That’s why stress topics for essays can be interesting to write. To understand the true essence of it, you should first delve into different paper examples. You can also read someone’s free argumentative essays about stress. This is a good tool for understanding, but you shouldn’t copy information from the source. Selecting intriguing stress topics for a research paper on stress writing requires considering the various dimensions of this phenomenon. The essay can use various analyses of the impact on mental health, physical well-being, and overall quality of life. In an essay on stress, you can also provide examples of chronic stress. It is related to health problems such as high blood pressure, a weakened immune system, and increased vulnerability to mental illness.
Stress is an ever-present companion, affecting students and individuals alike. Stress management helps us overcome difficulties in life. Highlighting this opinion can serve as a good thesis statement in your paper. It is also a good idea to create a meaningful outline before writing. This way, you will be sure what exactly you want to cover and what arguments you need to provide. It’s better to think about an intriguing introduction and a thought-provoking essay conclusion in advance.
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Talking to a friend, family member, loved one or even a professional may help with a stressful situation in life, and is very common. Psychotherapy is one of the most popular and a very effective treatment for someone suffering from PTSD. Most people suffering from PTSD do some type of psychotherapy, usually one-on-one therapy, group therapy, or a combination of the two. (Cohen, H. 2017). A psychotherapist approach to help someone with PTSD is time-limited and can be successful in […]
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Traumatic events can often have a lasting impact on the mind and may result in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD. The symptoms they entail can include depression, anxiety, and hypervigilance. Despite being around for over a century, PTSD was not placed on the official psychiatric list until 1980 under "Post Traumatic Stress Disorder." Essentially, it is a disorder that a traumatic injury or psychological shock has caused. PTSD can have a variety of effects on those who suffer from it. […]
Post-traumatic Stress Disorder in Veterans
PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder is a huge issue that is found in veterans who have served in the military and is caused by traumatic experiences they have gone through such as combat. Such trauma like this can then be triggered through memories or other senses. The disorder can not only affect these veterans and how they live their daily and social life by causing problems such as anger, avoidance, or depression, but it can also have a large impact […]
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Professionalism in Healthcare
The Medical Protection Society defines a profession as a “calling or vocation involving a degree of skill, learning or science”. Professionalism is a set of core values, behaviors, and beliefs that are based around integrity, duty, honesty, and competence in clinical skills. (Sarah Whitehouse, 2013) Professionalism in the healthcare workplace is based on putting patients’ needs first and leaving them feeling confident in their providers. This has been shown, through research, to have an effect on patient well-being and recovery. […]
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Portrayal in the Perks of being a Wallflower
Introduction of Topic & Character The film, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, is a coming of age film based around three high school students who have all formed a friendship out of their need to belong and be accepted. In this story, the main character, Charlie, experienced a profound trauma as a young boy in which his Aunt Helen sexually abused him. She was later killed in a car accident which left Charlie feeling abandoned. As he grew, this […]
Lavender as a Treatment for Stress and Anxiety
The American Psychological Association reports that in the past five years, 44% of Americans have reported that their stress levels have increased. Not only is short-term stress on the rise for Americans, but chronic stress is as well (Clay, 2011). When under stress, the body produces extra cortisol, a hormone produced in the adrenal glands. Almost all cells within our bodies have cortisol receptors, and an increase in the production of this hormone can lead to a large variety of […]
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I believe that stressing out is a waste of time. Ever since I started sixth grade one year ago I have had to deal with a lot of stress. When I go to bed at night, I worry about things that are going to happen far into the future and things that have already happened that I wish I could change. In sixth grade, I didn’t get stressed out that often, but now that I’m in seventh-grade things have changed […]
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In 1942, a baby was born in a Chicago hospital, named John Wayne Gacy. He came from what seemed like a normal family. He grew up with his two sisters, his mother, and his father. However, no one knew that Gacy's father was both verbally and physically abusing him. This would ultimately affect Gacy for the rest of his life. In 1968, Gacy was indicted by a grand jury for allegedly committing the act of sodomy with a young teenage […]
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The topic I chose to do my problems in disaster psychology over was students dealing with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. In my first paper, I described several problems that schools may face due to this disorder. One of the main problems I pointed out was student recognition of the disorder. Kids do not always know how to deal with stress especially when they have never been taught about it. Most schools expect students to be the ones recognizing the symptoms they […]
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Introduction: In this era of competition, technology, forwardness, and modernization, the struggle to stay at the first place is increasing. Every individual wants to dominate the other person and wants to achieve so much in little time, without much of the hard work. This race of life has left people impatient, materialistic and a feeling of worthlessness. Having little self-regard can lead people to become more stressed, depressed, to fall short of their potential and less tolerant in certain situations […]
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In reading the ""Managing Stress chapter in the textbook, I have come to a realization about myself while also being refreshed on coping mechanisms to relieve stress. When I worked through some of the exercises, I have realized that I continuously handle stress in a nonhealthy manner. However, I have had time to reflect upon myself and the causes to my stress, while creating plans to executed in properly handling that stress. When I looked over the ""recognizing possible signs […]
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Essay About Stress Stress is something that has been in this world since Adam and Eve first ate the fruit from the tree. It is something that everyone experiences in their lives at some point and is not very fun to go through. Stress can also be something that is good but is hard for a person to handle. There are many causes of stress and these things can be a life-changing moment or even some small events as well. There are some things in life that are good things that happen to people, but still, stress them out because it is something new that they are learning to deal with. For example, one of these things actually happens to be married. Marriage is something good in this world, but for most people, it is stressful because it is something new and they plan to live with that person for the rest of their life. There are also many more stressful things to marriage and those things happen to vary per couple. Another cause of a type of good stress would be moving to a new house. Moving could be a good thing if it is something that is needed in someone’s life but could still be stressful in the process of moving. It is hard to explain because the main point in people’s lives is good, but the process of getting to these things is stressful. That is probably the best way to describe it. To add to that, these things are good things that happen to people but still can still be stressful. The next causes of stress are things that happen to people and some are not so good things. Some of these things include divorce, the death of a loved one, and can even include loud random noises. With the first cause, divorce is something that happens to many people in the world. There are different things that cause divorce, but that is another topic. Divorce is stressful for everyone. If kids are included in that, the kids may get stressed out as well. Divorce is not a good thing and no one expects it to happen when they first get married. The next cause is the death of a loved one. Death, in general, is really hard and is really stressful. No one wants someone in their life to pass away and leave them. Being sad from having someone pass away could cause stress. It is something that can be really stressful and can cause even more things like depression as well. The last cause would be random loud noises. This is something that a lot of people get stressed out about more than people think it does. This cause is a smaller one than divorce or death but is something that can stress people out just as much. All of these things are causes to stress and are some not-so-good things. It is really hard having stress in people’s lives. No one likes stress and it is something that drags a lot of people down. Stress has many causes that can be good and can be bad. There are a lot more causes of stress in life that are not mentioned in this essay. If all of the causes were mentioned here, it would probably be a thousand-page paper. There are endless possibilities to stress and it ranges anywhere from small things to life-changing things.
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- Published: 27 June 2019
The human stress response
- Georgina Russell 1 &
- Stafford Lightman ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0002-8546-9646 1
Nature Reviews Endocrinology volume 15 , pages 525–534 ( 2019 ) Cite this article
- Adrenal cortex hormones
- Circadian rhythms
- Multihormonal system disorders
- Stress signalling
The human stress response has evolved to maintain homeostasis under conditions of real or perceived stress. This objective is achieved through autoregulatory neural and hormonal systems in close association with central and peripheral clocks. The hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis is a key regulatory pathway in the maintenance of these homeostatic processes. The end product of this pathway — cortisol — is secreted in a pulsatile pattern, with changes in pulse amplitude creating a circadian pattern. During acute stress, cortisol levels rise and pulsatility is maintained. Although the initial rise in cortisol follows a large surge in adrenocorticotropic hormone levels, if long-term inflammatory stress occurs, adrenocorticotropic hormone levels return to near basal levels while cortisol levels remain raised as a result of increased adrenal sensitivity. In chronic stress, hypothalamic activation of the pituitary changes from corticotropin-releasing hormone-dominant to arginine vasopressin-dominant, and cortisol levels remain raised due at least in part to decreased cortisol metabolism. Acute elevations in cortisol levels are beneficial to promoting survival of the fittest as part of the fight-or-flight response. However, chronic exposure to stress results in reversal of the beneficial effects, with long-term cortisol exposure becoming maladaptive, which can lead to a broad range of problems including the metabolic syndrome, obesity, cancer, mental health disorders, cardiovascular disease and increased susceptibility to infections. Neuroimmunoendocrine modulation in disease states and glucocorticoid-based therapeutics are also discussed.
The hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis is a key system that synchronizes the stress response with circadian regulatory processes.
Regulation of the HPA axis is very dynamic with both ultradian and circadian oscillations.
Short-term and longer-term stress result in different regulatory mechanisms involving hypothalamic, pituitary and adrenal activity, as well as cortisol metabolism.
Chronic elevation and nonphysiological patterns of cortisol result in poor cognitive, metabolic and immune function.
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Cues that entrain or synchronize the body’s 24-h cycle
Biological rhythms that occur with a frequency of <24 h.
A biochemical oscillator with phases synchronized with solar time.
Neural pathways involving at least one relay.
The microcirculation that allows transport of hypothalamic hormones to the pituitary gland.
The threshold power of (solar) electromagnetic radiation needed to exert an effect.
Repetitive body movements that serve no biological function.
Behaviours engaged for a specific functional purpose.
Any biological process that displays an oscillation of approximately 24 h.
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Russell, G., Lightman, S. The human stress response. Nat Rev Endocrinol 15 , 525–534 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41574-019-0228-0
Accepted : 05 June 2019
Published : 27 June 2019
Issue Date : September 2019
DOI : https://doi.org/10.1038/s41574-019-0228-0
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Essay on Stress
Under stress, the body produces the hormone adrenaline, the main function of which is to force the body to survive. Stress is a normal part of human life and it is necessary in certain amounts. If our life did not have stressful elements of competition, risk, willingness to work as hard as we can, life would be much more boring. Sometimes stress acts as a motivation that is needed in order to feel the fullness of emotions, even if it is about survival. If the amount of these challenges and complex problems becomes very large, then the person loses the ability to cope with these tasks.
Anxiety is a state of mind and body, associated with worries, tension and nervousness. Every person meets such moments in life when he is under stress or anxiety. In fact, the state of anxiety helps a person cope with external threats, forcing the brain to work intensively and giving the body a state of readiness for action. When anxiety and fears begin to suppress the person and influence his daily life, he may experience so-called anxiety disorders. Anxiety disorders, including panic disorder, fear of losing a job, specific fears, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and general anxiety, usually begin to appear after the age of 15-20 years (Dunkley, 2013). Anxiety disorders are regarded as chronic diseases that can progress without treatment. Currently, there are effective methods for their treatment.
Causes of stress
There are external and internal causes of stress.
External causes of stress and anxiety are moving to a new location, change of job, death of a loved one, divorce, everyday troubles associated with money problems, fulfillment of obligations by a certain date, disputes, family relationships, not enough sleep or bad quality of sleep.
Internal causes of stress and anxiety are life values and beliefs, fidelity to the promise, self-esteem (Procko & Shaham, 2011).
Symptoms of stress
Symptoms may gradually increase or appear suddenly, within a few minutes. Panic attacks are usually short, occur in the form of emotional explosions, accompanied by a feeling of horror and reactions of the organism such as heart palpitations and sweating. Generalized anxiety disorder usually develops gradually and is usually not a direct consequence of a particular irrational fear (phobia). Two major signs of stress and anxiety are uncontrollable anxiety and worry. Symptoms also include muscle tension, fatigue, irritability, restlessness, insomnia or sleep disorders, difficulty in concentrating. Stress and anxiety can lead to panic attacks, which are characterized by pain or discomfort in the chest, heart palpitations, shortness, shallow breathing, feeling short of breath, choking, chills or sudden onset of fever, shivering, nausea, abdominal pain, numbness, or tingling in the extremities (Weston, 2013).
Body’s response to stress
Human behavior in situations of stress differs from affective behavior. Under stress, a person can usually control his emotions, analyze the situation, and make appropriate decisions.
There are various kinds of stress depending on the stress factor, including physiological and psychological. Psychological stress, in turn, can be divided into informational and emotional. Informational stress may develop when a person is unable to cope with the problem, has no time to make the right decision at the required rate with a high degree of responsibility, ie, when there is an information overload. Emotional stress arises in situations of danger, resentment, etc.
Hans Selye identified 3 stages in the development of stress:
The first stage is alarm reaction – phase of mobilization of organism defense, which improves stability with respect to a specific traumatic impact. Thus, there is a redistribution of body reserves: the main objective is due to secondary tasks.
The second phase brings the stabilization of the parameters derived from the equilibrium in the first phase, which are fixed at a new level. External behavior does not differ from the norm, as if everything is getting better, but there is an internal overrun of adaptive reserves.
If the stressful situation persists, there comes the third stage – exhaustion, which can lead to a significant deterioration of state of health, various diseases and, in some cases, death (Fagundes & Kiecolt-Glaser 2013).
If the stressful situation depends on us, we need to focus on how to change it. If the situation does not depend on us, it is necessary to accept and change our perception, our attitude to this situation.
One of the most common causes of stress is the contradiction between reality and perceptions of man.
Stress response is equally easy to be caused by real events, and ones that exist only in our imagination. In psychology, this is called the “law of the emotional reality of the imagination.” As estimated by psychologists, about 70% of our worries are caused by the events that do not exist in reality, but only in the imagination (#BB, 2013). Besides, not only negative but also positive life events can lead to the development of stress. When something changes dramatically for the better, the body also reacts to this with a stress.
Stressful conditions significantly affect the activities of man. People with different features of the nervous system respond differently to the same psychological stress. Some people experience increased activity, mobilization, improving performance. This is a so-called “stress of a lion.” Danger makes a person act boldly and courageously. On the other hand, stress can cause a disruption of activity, sharp decline in its effectiveness, passivity and total inhibition (“stress of a bunny”) (Dow, 2014).
Human behavior in a stressful situation depends on many factors, but primarily on the psychological stability that incorporates with the ability to quickly assess the situation, instantaneous orientation skills in unexpected circumstances, strong-willed discipline and determination, experience of behavior in similar situations.
Treatment of stress
Stress tends to accumulate. From physics we know that nothing in nature can disappear into nowhere, matter and energy just move or turn into other forms. The same rule is applied to the psychology. Experiences can not disappear, they are either expressed outside, for example in talking with other people, or accumulate.
It is known that there is no better medicine than a good sleep. Therefore, it is worth considering how you sleep. Here are some guidelines that will help make your sleep better.
- Regular exercise help normal sleep. It is desirable to exercise outside for a couple of hours before bedtime.
- Before going to bed, you can take a warm bath and listen to relaxing music. If possible, combine taking a bath with listening to music. Try to do this every day.
- In order the sleep to be deeper and healthier, the body needs the hormone melatonin. Rice, wheat, barley, sunflower seeds, and dried apricots contain B vitamins, which increases the content of hormone melatonin in the body. Refined products are lack of these vitamins, so try to eat organic foods, preferably with a high carbohydrate content.
- Your bedroom should not be stuffy, noisy and light: none of these is conducive to restful sleep.
Calm breathing helps to cope with stress. Inhale should be deep, through the nose. Exhale slowly and through the mouth.
It is also important to eat right when you are stressed. The food should be light and well absorbed. Eat slowly, in small portions. Relax a bit after the meal.
There are popular ways of dealing with stress. Chamomile is considered to be a good remedy. Its decoction helps to cope with headache, insomnia, has a calming effect. Herb oregano oil and clary sage also have effective relaxing properties. Melissa is a great remedy from overwork. It is used to relieve tension, anxiety, it can help even with strong stress. Teas of lemon balm are good for insomnia and depression.
Stress is a feeling that one experiences when considers that he cannot effectively cope with the situation. It is worth remembering that under the stress usual emotions are replaced by anxiety, which causes a disturbance in the physiological and psychological terms. This concept was introduced by Hans Selye to denote non-specific response of the organism to adverse effects. His research showed that various factors – fatigue, fear, hurt, cold, pain, humiliation in the body cause the same type of complex reaction regardless of what kind of stimulus acts on it at the moment. Moreover, these stimuli do not need to exist in reality. A man reacts not only to the actual danger, but also to the threat or reminder of it. For example, stress often occurs not only in situations of divorce of the spouses, but also in suspense of divide of the marital relationship. It is worth remembering that there are some rules to help combat stress. Firstly, try to avoid situations, which lead to the accumulation of stress. Secondly, it should be remembered that stress is accumulated especially well when we fully focus on it. Third, we must remember that there are many ways to relieve stress, such as exercise, massage, sleep, singing, bath salt and relaxing oils, bath, aromatherapy, relaxing music and others.
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How Does Stress Affect the Body? Essay
Stress is an inseparable part of any human experience, which is why its effects on the body need to be examined further. Although efforts must be applied to reduce the extent of stress and the exposure to it, eradicating the specified phenomenon from an individual’s life is presently impossible and barely productive (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). Instead, the effects of stress and their mitigation need to be learned closer to reduce possible health outcomes. Especially after the pandemic of COVID-19 has made the levels of stress in people worldwide skyrocket, the significance of studying the levels of stress on the human body has grown tremendously (Schönrich et al. 3). This paper will examine the effects of stress on different systems within a human body, further recommending the strategies that can be used to alleviate the adverse outcomes.
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Before proceeding with listing the multiple outcomes of stress affecting the human body and its multiple systems, one might want to define the subject matter first. The notion of stress might seem simple enough, meaning mostly feeling of unease caused by negative emotions. However, the concept of stress is far more complex due to the presence of multiple factors determining its development, as well as the numerous ways in which it can manifest itself (Schönrich et al. 2). Therefore, to define stress, one may need to consider several perspectives.
As a separate health issue, stress does not occur in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–5). Instead, DSM-5 offers definitions for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), acute stress disorder (ASD), anxiety, and related conditions (American Psychiatric Association 265). The described approach is quite reasonable since the very notion of stress is quite broad. Indeed, examining the subject matter, one will recognize the presence of a twofold nature of it. Namely, stress encompasses both the state of anxiety and emotional unease, while also implying the range of external factors affecting an individual. Collier et al. suggest that stress should be defined as “the environment that places a strain on a biological system” (10367). As shown in the described definition, the notion of stress is seen as a combination of the components that elicit negative emotions and confusion.
Stress and the Human Body
To examine the effects of stress on the human body, a basic understanding of how the human body functions are needed. To simplify the exploration of the complex neurological pathways that the stress response suggests, one may need to isolate eleven primary systems within the human body. These are the musculoskeletal, respiratory, cardiovascular, endocrine, gastrointestinal, nervous, reproductive, digestive, immune, urinary, and exocrine (Rathus and Nevid 17). Since changes occur within every system and are intertwined closely within the human body, it is crucial to consider each with the described connection in mind.
Effects of Stress on the Musculoskeletal and Exocrine Systems
As an immediate and instinctive response to stress, the muscles in the human body become tense. The specified reaction causes muscles to become the shield against a possible injury, also allowing one either to fight effectively or to run (Rathus and Nevid 121). The increase in muscle tension is spurred by the rise in the levels of cortisol, which is a steroid hormone produced by the adrenal cortex located in the adrenal gland (Rathus and Nevid 121). In turn, chronic stress causes muscles to be overly tense constantly, which may lead to long-term effects such as muscle cramps (Rathus and Nevid 122). Prolonged stress also affects the exocrine system in the long term, causing hair loss and brittle nails.
Effects of Stress on the Respiratory System
In the event of a sudden introduction of stress factors, the respiratory system responds in increased activity. Namely, the number of breaths per minute increases due to the rise in the need to supply oxygen to muscles and the brain (Hales and Hales 22). The described outcome is linked directly to the aforementioned “fight or flight” instinct, which enables the body to increase the speed and precision of its reactions to external factors. Furthermore, due to the constriction of the air pathways, breaths become shorter and faster (Rathus and Nevid 124). Thus, the respiratory system becomes overloaded in the event of acute stress; in fact, studies show that an asthma attack may occur as a result (Rathus and Nevid 124).
Effects of Stress on the Cardiovascular System
Due to the need to supply an increased amount of oxygen to lungs and muscles, the rise in breaths per minute causes the cardiovascular system to function at a faster pace as well, raising the heartbeat significantly. The observed phenomenon is explained by stronger heart contractions caused by the increase in the levels of cortisol, as well as adrenaline and noradrenaline (Hales and Hales 22). Furthermore, due to the need for a larger oxygen intake for the body, the amount of blood pumped through the blood vessels and the heart increases substantially, causing a faster heart rate and an increased workload for the cardiovascular system.
Effects of Stress on the Nervous System
Being under the influence of stress-inducing factors, the nervous system also produces an immediate response. However, before assessing the effects of stress on it, one should mention that the nervous system is typically split into two main parts, namely, the autonomic and somatic ones (Hales and Hales 24). The former, in turn, is subdivided into the sympathetic (SNS) and parasympathetic (PNS) nervous systems (Hales and Hales 24). The latter plays a direct role in activating the aforementioned “fight or flight” response as it sends signals to the adrenal medulla and the pituitary gland (Hales and Hales 22). As a result, the glands releasing cortisol, adrenalin, and noradrenalin are activated, causing immediate changes in the rest of the systems, particularly, the endocrine and the respiratory ones. Thus, the chain of immediate responses toward the emerging risk is launched. When affected by stress in the long term, the nervous system continues to respond, causing further deterioration of the body.
Effects of Stress on the Endocrine System
As emphasized above, stress factors cause an immediate release of the hormones that activate the rest of the systems. Therefore, what is known as the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis within the endocrine system is activated once stress factors emerge. As a result, stress-related hormones, primarily, cortisol, adrenalin, and noradrenalin, are produced. Cortisol, in turn, supplies the energy needed to address a stress-related situation.
Effects of Stress on the Gastrointestinal and Reproductive Systems
The gastrointestinal system also responds to stress quite promptly due to the immense number of neurons in it. However, due to the disruption of the standard functioning of the gastrointestinal cells, stress can result in muscle spasms within the gastrointestinal system. The described phenomenon may entail a variety of effects ranging from diarrhea to constipation.
Examining the effects of stress on the human reproductive system, one should consider the differences between the male and female ones. In the male system, due to the rise in the levels of testosterone, which is activated through the parasympathetic path, the phenomenon of arousal is often observed as a response to immediate threat and stress (Hales and Hales 23). In the female reproductive system, long-term effects such as the disruption of the menstrual cycle and the inability to conceive can be seen as the key outcomes.
Effects of Stress on the Urinary and Excretory Systems
In an overactive bladder, the increased level of stress may lead to more rapid functioning and the need to urinate more frequently, leading to incontinence. In the long term, the specified effects may cause additional health conditions, such as bladder inflammation. Similarly, the excretory system’s functioning is disrupted to a considerable degree under the influence of both short- and long-term stress. The specified effects are likely to aggravate until the stress factors are removed from an individual’s environment, which is why the threat of kidney damage must be considered for those experiencing constant emotional distress.
Effects of Stress on the Immune System
As a rule, a significant drop in the functioning of the immune system is observed after individual experiences severe stress. When considering short-term stress, the immune system of an individual remains unaffected for the most part; however, in the long term, the immune system suffers significantly. Due to the focus on managing a specific set of stress factors, the human body loses the ability to produce antibodies as effectively as it used to do. Consequently, one’s ability to withstand the impact of multiple health threats is diminished to a large extent, causing one to become more susceptible to infectious diseases and, overall, more vulnerable to health threats. The described outcomes suggest that the immune system must remain one of the priorities when addressing stress as a health concern.
Effects of Stress on the Lymphatic System
Finally, the effects that stress produces on the lymphatic system of an individual need to be touched upon. The lymphatic system is also affected once an individual is exposed to stress, causing the neural-inflammatory signaling to be reduced significantly. Long-term exposure to stress may cause the development of cancerous cells in lymph nodes, as a recent study explains (Le and Sloan 3). Therefore, addressing the problem of stress promptly is essential to prevent oncological issues from developing.
Although stress is often taken for granted and believed to have mostly superficial effects solely on the nervous system, it affects profoundly the entirety of the human body. Even in the instances when stress occurs for a short amount of time, the changes taking place in one’s body are very noticeable, causing a string of adverse effects. In the long term, the effects of stress on one’s health are detrimental since stress affects every single system. Thus, creating strategies for managing stress as a tangible threat to one’s well-being is instrumental. Moreover, promoting patient education concerning the strategies for managing stress and preventing it from taking place needs to be designed.
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (DSM-5) . American Psychiatric Publishing.
Center on the Developing Child. “Brief: Connecting the Brain to the Rest of the Body.” CDC , Web.
Collier, Robert J., et al. “A 100-Year Review: Stress Physiology Including Heat Stress.” Journal of dairy science, vol. 100, no. 12, 2017, pp. 10367-10380. Web.
Hales, Dianne, and Julia Hales. Personal Stress Management: Surviving to Thriving . Nelson Education, 2016.
Le, Caroline P., and Erica K. Sloan. “Stress-Driven Lymphatic Dissemination: An Unanticipated Consequence of Communication between the Sympathetic Nervous System and Lymphatic Vasculature.” Molecular & Cellular Oncology , vol. 3, no. 4, 2016, pp. 1-8.
Mental Health. “Anxiety Global.” OurWorldData , 2020, Web.
Rathus, Spencer A., and Jeffrey S. Nevid. Psychology and the Challenges of Life: Adjustment and Growth . John Wiley & Sons, 2019.
Schönrich, Günther, Martin J. Raftery, and Yvonne Samstag. “Devilishly Radical NETwork in COVID-19: Oxidative Stress, Neutrophil Extracellular Traps (NETs), and T Cell Suppression.” Advances in Biological Regulation , vol. 77, 2020, pp. 1-12.
“The Body Systems.” Adelphi , 2020, Web.
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Essay on stress: top 7 essays | human behaviour | psychology.
Here is a compilation of essays on ‘Stress’ for class 9, 10, 11 and 12. Find paragraphs, long and short essays on ‘Stress’ especially written for school and college students.
Essay on Stress
- Essay on Stress Research
Essay # 1. Introduction to Stress:
Lewis Mumford in his classical book “ The Transformation of Man” observes that if one were to go by the theory of evolution we find that up to the level of the human being, the evolution has been “autoplastic”, i.e. to deal with the problems of survival, the organism has been changing itself, from unicellular to multicellular, from the invertebrate to vertebrate, etc. But at the human level, change has been “alloplastic”.
The basic human nature of the noblest and greatest of human beings today is no different biologically from that of the early savage. The evolution at the human level has been social, and this through an environment which the human being has been changing and manipulating through his own actions.
This means, the emergent problems of stress and anxiety faced by modern man is essentially an offspring of the environment he has created. Man is helpless in confronting his own mischief. We can certainly make an allusion to the story of Mohini and Bhasmasura (the teacher may explain this episode in the class).
The effect of all these is, to lead an individual to certain psychological consequences. The 20th century, in spite of all its scientific and materialistic advances has been described as an ‘age of anxiety’.
Karen Homey is of the opinion that modern society necessarily generates what you call ‘basic anxiety’ and very few are free from it, and in order to overcome this anxiety certain neurotic trends like restlessness, loneliness, aggressiveness, helplessness, compulsiveness and radicalism, etc. develop. This seems to be a new form of religion.
In the past few years, a concept has emerged in behavioural science research and also physiological research to understand and evolve ways and means of dealing with this state of human existence. Psychologists, physiologists and medical scientists and many others have found that the term ‘stress’ can be borrowed from physics to explain many of the symptoms described above.
It has been shown that rapid socio-cultural changes, ecological changes, certain psychological factors, lifestyles, all contribute to the stress. We may examine in brief the concept of stress, its nature and consequences.
M. Franken Heuser observes, “life in contemporary society is less stressful (physically) than that of any previous generation. Our age however has its own problems, many of them psychological or social in nature. Today we need not be starved in cold or physically exhausted for stress to occur (as in the earlier times). Life in technologically advanced societies imposes new demands on the same bodily resources that helped our ancestors to survive, for making them fight or flee”.
David Hamburg, leading medical scientist observes “our species has moved rapidly to take advantage of the technological opportunities and their concomitant material benefits, to undertake patterns of behaviour which are at times achieved only at high costs in terms of psycho-biology” . These problems ultimately result in ‘stress’.
Essay # 2. Sources of Stress:
Stress can be caused by many factors in the life of an individual, spread over years. It comes to be felt only if it exceeds a certain critical intensity.
Some of the factors which can contribute to the accumulation of stress are as follows:
(i) Frustration :
Repeated failures in our attempts to achieve certain goals can contribute to stress. This type of repeated failure leads to frustration. Frustration involves the blocking or thwarting of our needs. Frustration again, can be mild and temporary or severe, prolonged and cumulative, resulting in stress.
Lack of opportunities, delays, discriminatory treatment, lack of resources, etc. are some of the common factors involved in frustration. Anyone who has had some work to be done with a government office would have certainly experienced frustration because of delay, silly objections, callousness and utter irresponsibility of the system. Similarly, personal limitations like physical limitations, repeated failures, etc. can also cause frustration.
Chandler, Fidler, Southgate and many others have pointed out how loneliness, actual or psychological, can result in frustration. In modern society, many people feel alienated. The brazen and shameless attempts by some to acquire positions of power, material wealth, etc., may definitely alienate the people and make it difficult for them to live a wholesome and meaningful life.
It is here we see a paradoxical situation. Many of those who are ‘go getters’, believe that “ends justify means” and are materially successful, but at the same time find themselves equally unhappy or worse than those who do not subscribe to mercenary ways of life.
In fact, it has been found that stress-related symptoms like, diabetes, hypertension and ulcers are much more common among those who apparently succeed by pushing and driving themselves to achieve “success”. The pressure to go after success endlessly, ultimately results in stress which manifests itself in various forms.
(ii) Conflicts :
All of us experience conflicts, ‘to do something or not to do’. Conflicts can be of different types. In modern life, almost every point of decision-making in one’s life tends to create conflicts, like choice of a job, educational, choice of a spouse; choice, in fact any choice situation poses a problem.
Conflicts have been described as approach-approach type, avoidance- avoidance type, and approach-avoidance type. But whatever be the nature of the conflict, it necessarily generates stress resulting in considerable amount of discomfort, restlessness, etc.
(iii) Pressure :
Contemporary society puts a lot of pressure on the individual. It is often very difficult to enjoy solitude. There is competition everywhere, for education, for job position and almost anything. There is a premium on success at any cost, and by and large success is measured in terms of possessions and positions.
We have to prove to be the fittest to survive (Darwin must be chuckling in his grave; whether his theme is scientific or not, it has proved prophetic). Today there is struggle for ‘moving up’ and the pity is, there is a struggle not only for real success but for imaginary success. The human being has become a victim of his own perverse value system.
Here, a problem arises as to who is the fittest. The Darwinian theory, simply and logically, based the ‘concept of fitness’ on the physical capacity of the organism to endure deprivation and possibly even competition. But, in our society, often it happens the other way.
Today “those who are successful are deemed to be the fittest, while according to Darwin, it would have been the other way. Instances are not wanting where a person who has been looked down as useless and good for nothing, if he somehow becomes successful is perceived and judged to be very capable and competitive. The same people who condemned him earlier very often can be heard saying I knew even then that he had some talent”.
Thus, with so much premium laid on competitive success, we notice a tendency for people to set for themselves unrealistic goals. The result is failure, leading to frustration, and ultimately emerging stress.
The fact that today’s society compels individuals to adapt and change their behaviour, whether it is really necessary or not, keeps an individual under pressure. This type of pressure operates in almost every walk of life. Every individual is expected to keep pace with this pressure which seriously affects what Toffler described as ‘adaptive circuits’. Similarly, inter-personal relationships can also produce stress.
The need to keep up appearances, the variations in the degree and type of inter-personal relations, all complicate life. You are expected to smile and be nice to a person whom you don’t like and who in your opinion is a despicable specimen.
In addition to the quality of relationship, the mere failure of interpersonal relationships makes a very high demand. In the traditional societies relationships were limited but stable. Unfortunately this is not the case in today’s society. The closest relationship can break for no reason.
Essay # 3. Causes of Stress:
The Stress results from a number of factors and can be definitely harmful to the individual. The effect of this harm can vary in form, degree and content. Stress is related to environmental factors or events of a personal nature like loss of a job, loss of a dear one, the fear of financial losses, or a series of crises etc.
Such factors which contribute to stress are described as stressors. These then create a need for the individual to change his habits, behaviour, attitudes, etc., which in turn enhance the stress. Thus, there appears to be a vicious circle-problems demand for change ineffective change increase in stress, and finally one reaches a stage where there can be a complete psychological breakdown.
It is not only the actual occurrence of an event, loss or failure, but even the perceived possibility of such an event can cause stress. For example, whenever our government proclaims that it wants to enforce austerity (often it is only a pretension), people are afraid of losing their jobs or blocking of promotions or future unemployment of their children.
Similarly, automation is perceived as likely to result in a loss of jobs or even reduced employment. Even today, there are many examples in our country, where people resist changes in organizations out of fear. The opposition to the move towards privatisation is an example of such anticipatory reaction.
A third set of factors relates not to situations as such, but to how people react and respond to this actual stress or anticipated stress. People differ in their reactions to the stress. Some react more intensely. Others seem to overcome the stress and a third set of people do not appear to be bothered at all.
It is here that we get into trouble. The onset and effects of stress are imperceptible, not visible and perhaps not consciously experienced by the person himself. At the other end there are people whose adjustment processes collapse and the effects are visible.
But even if the presence of stress is imperceptible, it can certainly affect the basic physiological processes and when sufficient amount of stress accumulates, can result in a breakdown, psycho-physiological disturbances, or defensive behaviour like withdrawal, rationalisation, conformity, etc.
Of course, there are individuals who are able to react to stress positively and effectively and in such cases stress turns out to be an advantage and brings out the best in the person. This possibility depends on how mild or severe the stress is and also what type of a person the individual is.
In view of this it has often been argued that a very mild degree of stress is in fact helpful and has motivating effect, but one does not know where the grey area is and at what point constructive stress can turn into destructive stress.
Essay # 4. Effects of Stress :
Stress affects the organism as a totality, even though the stressor may be located in any particular segment of his life space. For example, if the stress is related to the work situation it does not cease at 5.00 PM when the individual leaves the work spot. It continues to affect him even when he goes back home.
The effects of stress are general and diffused. Similarly, stressing situations of personal life can affect behaviour in the work situation, social interactions or for that matter in any situation.
Stress, then, is essentially a sort of pressure of a psychophysiological nature arising and accumulating as a result of environmental factors or as a result of an interaction between environmental factors and behavioural styles, necessitating varying degrees of behavioural changes cognitive, conative and affective.
The effect of this is to weigh the individual down and this manifests itself in various forms ranging from simple restlessness at one end to severe psychological breakdown at the other. Stress is very often caused by not just the intensity of the stressors but by our own reaction tendencies, emotions, desires, prejudices, etc. Incidentally stress can also be contagious.
Others can gift away their stress to us and the reverse is also possible. For example, during examination times it is often seen that if the child is under stress because of the competitive nature of the examination the parents also experience stress and almost become panicky. This is like the man experiencing labor pains when the woman is delivering a baby. Stress involves psychological, social, biological and physical factors and in most instances all operate together.
All of us experience stress of varying degrees of intensity. Of course, in most cases mild stress is overcome by learning new coping behaviour which not only helps us to overcome a present set of stress but also equips us to be in a position to face future stress. But, there are others who are not able to achieve this.
There are wide individual differences in the capacity for stress tolerance, and the ways in which people react to stress. Thus both acquisition of stress and the manner of reaction to it are the results of the type of socialisation and lifestyle of the individual.
Essay # 5. Factors Affecting Stress:
The term stress has been used by psychologists with varying meanings. An idea of the wide range of definitions can be had if one goes through the reviews by Janis and Levinthal, Apply & Trumble, Lazarus. Scots defines stress as a “situation in which adjustment is difficult or impossible but in which motivation is very strong”.
The emotional and psychological state resulting out of such a situation will be stress. This definition appears to be a more or less reasonable one, for anyone to begin a discussion on the problem of stress.
Some of the factors associated with experience of stress are physical changes, isolation, solitude, crowding, noise, lack of privacy, monotony and personality incompatibility. Very often these factors act in combination and rarely do we find that a single factor can account for all the stress.
It has been shown that continuous exposure to the situations can result in a high degree of stress, which in turn can have a lot of effects on performance and also debilitate the individual. There is some evidence, of course, to show that occasionally, a mild degree of stress can really augment and facilitate performance. Investigators have pointed, to an inverted U relationship, between the amount of stress and performance.
While there has been success in attempts at predicting individual reactions to stress, by and large there has not been much of a success achieved in predicting stress behaviour in general terms. Laboratory studies and field studies have often shown trends of results which differ from each other.
Laboratory simulations of stress, confinement and isolation, have been difficult to complete because of high emotional tension in performance and profound inter-personal conflicts. Field researches on the other hand, as in the armed forces, have noticed success in overcoming combat stress in exploration groups, paratroops landing etc. Thus, lab situations often result in wrong predictions and sometimes gross under-estimation of stress-tolerance.
Noise has been found to be one of the most severe stressors. A few studies on children have shown that children from noisy homes suffer from attention difficulties and consequently poor school performance. Noisy schools can also lead to health problems in children and in adults, high blood pressure, lower-tolerance level, reduction in auditory skills, etc.
Memory about contents of social situations in pictures viewed under conditions of noise are also affected. Mathews & Canney have shown that noise is such a stressor that it can adversely affect even helping behaviour. When we are under noisy conditions, we are inclined to be less helpful.
Heat is another factor which has been studied as a stressor. A commission, appointed to look into the 1960 riots in U.S.A., (Kemer Commission) noted that high temperature was related with extensity and intensity of the riots. A number of other researches have also found supporting evidence.
There are certain psychological or personality factors which contribute to stress proneness. Individuals differ in many aspects of behaviour and their ability to tolerate stress and reacting to the same are also related to personal factors.
Basic temperamental factors, previous experience, perceived extent of one’s control over the situation, all are important factors in shaping the individual’s reaction to stress. Friedmen & Rosennan have identified two types of personalities, Type A and Type B, the former always in a hurry and thus flaying with speed and restless.
He shows a tendency to crowd activities, or do many things at the same time. He is competitive, anxious, and always on the move. He is the typical hard driving achievement-oriented individual. Many such people experience more stress, often manifested in the form of cardio-vascular problems.
The Type-B is characterised by relaxed behaviour, cautious and tolerant. These types of individuals do not drive themselves nor drive others too much. They plan their activities and have higher degree of stress-tolerance. Researchers have shown that there is a fairly high degree of association between Type-A characteristics and proneness to accumulate stress and also being unable to deal with it effectively.
All these factors, like frustration, conflict, pressure and personality and stylistic factors provide a fertile soil for stress to develop and grow, in addition to external demands. The problem of stress experience is lessened if the individual has control over the situation and also control over himself.
A sense of helplessness increases the severity of the stress. It has been noticed interestingly, that there are instances, where actual stressing factors are not essential, but the individual’s anticipation of the same is enough. Similarly, it is not necessary that an individual should have the actual ability to control outside and inside factors of stress.
The perceived ability and confidence on the part of the individual about his ability to deal with the problems of stress is much more important. Thus, people with ‘internal locus of control’ look into themselves, are reflective, and are not simply swayed by the environment. They are found to have a greater ability for stress tolerance as observed by Bandura, Geer Davison & Gotchel.
The above discussion of stress as an interesting component of human life has helped to point out a number of factors; social, and psychological involved in the experience of stress. It is obvious then that an individual’s attitudes and values play an important role.
Similarly, an individual’s lifestyle or “reaction type” to the environment is also very crucial. The social psychologist can find very few problems to claim his attention which are more important than stress. He should be able to identify the various internal and external characteristics, which contribute to the onset and increase of stress.
Similarly, he can also think of suggesting necessary social support systems for those who are likely to be stress prone. It was seen that very often loneliness is critically associated with stress.
The social psychologist can work out ways and means to develop systems and institutions which will provide the necessary social support which, traditionally, the home and the school and religion were providing. However, one hopes that in the process he does not increase the stress of others, but also his own.
Today these institutions appear to have become ineffective. Franken Hauser has the following to say:
“When assessing the potential of psychology in promoting human health and welfare it is important to remember that people today have a much better chance than earlier generations, of shaping their own environment to suit human needs. Technology provides a tool and the task now is to devise application of new technology so that they can contribute to the realisation of social and human goals. What has been observed above is that it is mainly the shaping and consolidation of proper attitudes and values that is probably the most important requirement, and this certainly is the domain of the social psychologist. He cannot disown it and others cannot appropriate this responsibility to themselves”.
Essay # 6. Manifestations of Stress :
Stress often operates without being noticed. Every person has a certain capacity to tolerate stress. But if the stress goes on accumulating, slowly certain symptoms begin to appear.
Some of the common manifestations of stress are as follows:
It may appear as restlessness, increased anxiety and gradual decrease in efficiency. The individual after sometime really gives the appearance of being under tension.
Slowly symptoms of respiratory problems, cardio-vascular problems, ulcers, skin problems, etc., begin to appear; insomnia, decreased activity level, loss of efficiency, decreased ability to concentrate and increased irritability are also some possible manifestations. Often multiple symptoms can be evident.
Coleman observes that stress need not always be unpleasant and result in negative consequence; the instances where stress results in negative consequences are referred to as ‘distress’. On the other hand in certain instances other forms of stress can stimulate a person to become more efficient, more creative and active. This type of stress is known as Eustress.
The reader will certainly appreciate that, while the latter category of stress is welcome; the former is not. In fact, we may even say that very mild form of stress is often found to be congenial to more adaptive behaviour. But this type of stress is much less frequent than negative stress. Only people with very high degrees of ‘stress tolerance’ are likely to derive benefit out of Eustress.
Essay # 7. Stress Research:
Stress research has been carried out mainly along two lines. The first line takes a physiological approach because there certainly are physiological factors in the causation of stress. Some of the earliest experiments in this area were earned out by Selye. Selye observed that animals exhibited a generalized system of response to all threatening situations in addition to specific symptoms.
There is a General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS) which includes the following:
(a) A system of signalling or alarm which arises and prepares the body to resist stress.
(b) The stage of resistance, wherein the body tries to cope with the stress.
When these operations in a cyclic form are repeated very often the organism reaches a third stage of exhaustion, and greater vulnerability to diseases. The work of Selye has very much influenced the nature and direction of research efforts to understand the problem of external stress and there is now a general consensus that attempts to cope with the stress can themselves contribute to stress as observed by Avens; Anderson & Tennent; Sklar & Anesmin.
Behavioural or psychological understanding of stress depends on how we define and approach the problem. We may take the approach that stress is a kind of demand or disturbance which appears capable of testing an individual’s abilities to adapt to various situations. Thus, we may look at stress as a potential threat to adaptability, readjustment, etc., and forcing the organism to seek re-adaptation.
Our adaptation to stress very much depends on how we estimate the severity of the stress. This primary appraisal should also include an assessment of our own resources to deal with them. It is the latter part which is sometimes called secondary appraisal.
However, our assessment of a stress situation is influenced by a number of factors including physical environment and social environment, our own past experience, values, motive, goals, etc. In general, researches have suggested a few models of stress. Perhaps a brief look at these models will be of interest.
(1) Arousal Model :
This model focuses on the intensity of the stimulation which arouses a stressful situation, both psychological and physiological in the individual. Thus, extreme temperature, noise, etc. can straightaway result in stress. The other models, however, focus on the adequacy or inadequacy of the individual’s coping mechanism or his resources.
(2) Information Overload Model :
The model lays emphasis on the fact that in contemporary society there is too much of information which an individual is not able to absorb. The only way of coping under this model is by eliminating or blocking out a certain part of the stimulation.
Milgram argues that the coldness of the modern urban individual is very much a result of this tendency to avoid stress by filtering out, evading or even eluding certain stimulation. This may have its consequences on his interpersonal relationships. When he needs emotional support he may not get it.
(3) Congruence Model :
The argument here is that stress occurs when we are in some way thwarted by the environment and unable to adjust in such a way that our goals will not be thwarted. For example, if there is too much crowd on the street, drivers may not be able to reach their destination fast. Too many telephone calls, may not permit you to do your work. This model has been proposed by Stohals.
Stress Research in India:
The nature of stress and its effects certainly appears to have been known to ancient India. The various prescriptions of how to live, what to do and what not to do, the intricate details about styles of lives, what to eat what not to eat, what to hear and what not to hear, what to see and what not to see and also the elaborate working out of Yagnas, Yogic exercises, etc. stand as eloquent evidence to the fact that the ancient Indian thinkers had a fairly in-depth knowledge of the phenomenon of stress, its adverse effects and also the methods of coping with stress.
The doctrine of the three gunas, Satva, Rajas and Tamas as also the elaborate enunciation of the doctrine of humour (body hormones). Kapha, Pitha and Vata (dhatus) are all strong indicators of the pre-occupation of ancient Indian science with the phenomenon of stress, understanding its aetiological factors including personality and temperamental factors.
Ramachandra Rao traces the concept of stress to the Sankhya and Yoga systems of philosophy. He draws our attention to the two terms Klesa and Dhukha, whose meanings appear to bear a considerable amount of resemblance to the present day description of stress.
Ancient Indian texts also have made references to three types of stress, personal stress (Adhyatmika), situational stress (Adhibhautika) and environmental stress (Adhidivika).
We can see here an anticipation of what we to-day call indigenous personal factors in stress, situational or episodic factors in stress and finally ecological environmental factors. Ancient Indian theory had also mentioned a number of mechanisms of coping with stress and understanding the same.
It was ultimately realised that in the last analysis it is the individual who should help himself by organising his way of life. The fact that in describing various stages of life (Ashramas), prescribing specific duties and also the very insightful emphasis on gradual withdrawal and disengagement from active life and taking to introspection, spiritual pre-occupation and learning to live by oneself, all this is a very eloquent reflection of the depth of knowledge the ancient Indians had, about the origins, effects and manifestations of stress and related phenomena and also the means of dealing with them.
But as is usual the thread of research and analysis of stress by ancient Indian thinkers was lost sight of. But during the past decade, there has been a re-awakening of interest in re-discovering what ancient Indian thinkers and scientists had to say on this problem.
It is only hoped that this is a genuine attempt at rediscovery and not pseudo patriotic revivalism. An attempt is made here to provide the reader with some idea of the researches and studies which are being undertaken in India in the field of stress including attempts to understand ancient Indian efforts to deal with the problem of stress.
Studies Relating to Physical and Psycho-Physiological Disorders:
A very active area of stress research in India relates to the role played by stress in the onset of different types of physical disorders like coronary disorders, (myocardial infarction,) cancer and depression. This line of research on the role of stress and personality factors associated with stress proneness appears to be the most active and productive.
This line of research has brought together medical scientists, physiologists and psychologists. Some of the studies that can be mentioned in this regard are those of : Ashok Kumar al; Bhargava, S.C. et al, Bhaskar Naidu & Venkat Ramaiah; Khorana, S; Rama Rao M.V., .et al; Katiyar M. et al; Shanmugam T.E.; Srivastava S et al; and Venkob Rao. The studies relate to life events, which are stress producing.
Another line of investigation has been devoted to the identification of the various factors and events and experiences in life that can pre-dispose an individual to develop stress.
Some studies along these lines are those of Singh, S.P. et al Venkob Rao & Nammalvar; Bhaskar Naidu; Venkat Ramaiah; Harim Kumar & Indira, R. Chatopadyay RK. & Das, M. It may thus be seen that the second line of investigations concerned with life experiences associated with stress and also their relationship to certain types of disorders, like depression, is also fairly rigorous and active.
Other Lines of Research:
Another set of investigations has been involved in devising and standardizing different types of tools for assessing the amount of stress and also related personality dimensions like those of Gurumeeth Singh et al, and Singh, G. et al. Some of the other areas of research are stress in organisations, and different kinds of employment as seen in the studies of Rama Murthy et al. Sharma & Sharma and Srivastava, A.K.
It may thus be seen that the research and study of stress, and its various aspects including causes, role in various disturbances, measurement problems and addictions are the few areas where Indian scientists have been taking interest.
Incidentally it may also be noted that a vast majority of these studies have been carried out in the post-1980 period indicating that stress research in India is of recent origin and is bound to gather more momentum.
Recently the author had the opportunity of looking into an unpublished piece of research which has attempted to relate stress experience to personality factors, conceptualized on the basis of ancient Indian ideas spelt out in the Sankhya philosophy and elaborated much more in the Bhagavad-Gita.
It is hoped that stress research in India will very soon expand to investigate the role of social and socio-psychological and present day cultural factors in the genesis of stress and also mechanisms which appear to be emerging for coping with stress.
Attribution Mode :
The concept of ‘attribution’ has also been employed to understand the phenomenon of crowding. Crowding results in a limitation of one’s ‘personal space’, ‘loss of control’ and other negative processes.
These become operative and explosive but only if the person concerned who is experiencing the above conditions tries to attribute them to some other source, human or otherwise. According to Worchell, crowding as a state thus results from attribution of personal discomfort to external agencies.
The focus of the person’s attention very often shifts under conditions of high density and the nature, and this kind of shift to a considerable extent, influences the nature and intensity of the negative effects of ‘felt crowding’. Worchell, Brown & Webb stated that the individual will experience stress only if he attributes it to the density and not otherwise.
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