In today's busy world stress is a familiar word on everyone's lips.It is not uncommon to hear 'I am stressed out' or 'I have been under a lot of stress recently'. Whilst we use the word frequently do we really understand the impact and meaning of the word stress. Perception, understanding and experience of stress can vary and differ from one person to the next and as a result it is difficult to define stress. Something that everyone who feels stressed has in common is the feeling of not being in control. This feeling is very distressing for a person. Not feeling in control is what stress is all about. 

In order to be able to manage stress effectively it is necessary to be able to understand the body's physiological response to stress as well as the impact it has on the physical, emotional, cognitive and behavioural aspects of the self.

What is Stress- A Physiological Response

Stress is a normal and vital body response to danger,whether the danger is real or imaginary. When a person feels stressed whether preparing for an exam, presentation, jamming on the car brakes or constantly feeling stressed and under pressure the nervous system responds by releasing stress hormones. These hormones include adrenaline and cortisol. With the release of these hormones heart rate and breathing increases and become more rapid. There is a surge in energy as the liver produces more glucose in response to the release of the stress hormones and a person becomes more focused and sharper. This is known as the fight or flight response and it is where the body prepares itself to deal with the threat of danger.  

Stress can be either healthy or unhealthy. Healthy stress is where the body has a fight or flight response and once the stressful situation is over the body relaxes and the body responses return to normal. This type of stress is necessary if a person is in danger or when a person needs to be motivated and driven to achieve a particular goal.

Unhealthy or chronic stress is when the body is in a constant state of fight or flight. This can have long term consequences and it impacts physically, emotionally, behaviourally and cognitively. Below are just some examples of the symptoms.

 Physical Impact of Stress
  • Tension Headaches/Migraines
  • Dizziness/Light Headedness
  • Palpitations/Chest Pain
  • Stress can cause rapid breathing or holding ones breath which can in turn lead to panic attacks
  • Diarrhea/Constipation
  • Sweating
  • Interrupted Sleep
  • Aches and Pains
  • Muscle Spasm
  • Loss of sex drive
  • In men who suffer from chronic stress the excess cortisol produced can affect the reproductive system
  • In women it can cause painful, absent or irregular periods or they may have difficulty in becoming pregnant.
Cognitive Impact of Stress 
  • Forgetfulness
  • Poor Memory
  • Poor Concentration
  • Irritability
  • Anger
  • Increased Frustration/Edginess
  • Indecisivness
  • Constant Worrying
  • Mind busy, racing with everything and anything
  • Feeling Distracted
Emotional Impact of Stress 
Behavioural Impact of Stress
  • Overeating/Loss of Appetite/No Time to Eat
  • Increased Smoking
  • Increased use or Dependence on Alcohol/Drugs/Gambling
  • Nail Biting

 Factors That Influence Stress

Stress can be either internal or external. 

Internal is where a person has high standards for themselves and often of everyone else. These standards can be unrealistic and cause the person to feel constantly stressed and under pressure.
Perfectionism- where only 100% will do.
When a person needs to be in control of everything, does not like uncertainty and has a need to understand everything.  
Where a person has an active critical part.
Where a person's attitude and view of life is negative and pessimistic
External Factors include the following:

Relationship Difficulties/Divorce
Financial Difficulties
Work Pressure
Being a Caregiver
Always On the Go 

How To Deal With Stress

How a person deals with and responds to stress is very individual.Men and women tend to react to stress differently. Women tend to seek out support and are more willing to talk about their problems whereas men tend to keep it to themselves.
In my next blog I will be look at stress management.

                                     © Copyright 2012 Anne-Marie Hearne