What is Stress?

Stress is a situation that triggers a particular biological response. When you perceive a threat or a major challenge, chemicals and hormones surge throughout your body.

Stress triggers your fight-or-flight response in order to fight the stressor or run away from it. Typically, after the response occurs, your body should relax. Too much constant stress can have negative effects on your long-term health.

Stress is a feeling of emotional or physical tension. It can come from any event or thought that makes you feel frustrated, angry, or nervous. Stress is your body’s reaction to a challenge or demand. In short bursts, stress can be positive, such as when it helps you avoid danger or meet a deadline.

Stress and cortisol As the main stress hormone, cortisol plays an essential role in stressful situations. Among its functions are: raising the amount of glucose in your bloodstream helping the brain use glucose more effectively raising the accessibility of substances that help with tissue repair restraining functions that are nonessential in a life-threatening situation altering immune system response dampening the reproductive system and growth process affecting parts of the brain that control fear, motivation, and mood All this helps you deal more effectively with a high-stress situation. It’s a normal process and crucial to human survival.

But if your cortisol levels stay high for too long, it has a negative impact on your health. It can contribute to: weight gain high blood pressure sleep problems lack of energy type 2 diabetes osteoporosis mental cloudiness (brain fog) and memory problems a weakened immune system, leaving you more vulnerable to infections.

It can also have a negative impact on your mood. You can lower your cortisol levels naturally: Here’s how.

Types of stress

There are several types of stress, including: acute stress episodic acute stress chronic stress.

Acute stress Acute stress happens to everyone. It’s the body’s immediate reaction to a new and challenging situation. It’s the kind of stress you might feel when you narrowly escape a car accident. Acute stress can also come out of something that you actually enjoy.

It’s the somewhat-frightening, yet thrilling feeling you get on a roller coaster or when skiing down a steep mountain slope. These incidents of acute stress don’t normally do you any harm.

They might even be good for you. Stressful situations give your body and brain practice in developing the best response to future stressful situations. Once the danger passes, your body systems should return to normal.

Severe acute stress is a different story. This kind of stress, such as when you’ve faced a life-threatening situation, can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or other mental health problems.

Episodic acute stress Episodic acute stress is when you have frequent episodes of acute stress. This might happen if you’re often anxious and worried about things you suspect may happen. You might feel that your life is chaotic and you seemingly go from one crisis to the next.

Certain professions, such as law enforcement or firefighters, might also lead to frequent high-stress situations. As with severe acute stress, episodic acute stress can affect your physical health and mental well-being.

Chronic stress When you have high-stress levels for an extended period of time, you have chronic stress.

Long-term stress like this can have a negative impact on your health. It may contribute to: anxiety cardiovascular disease depression high blood pressure a weakened immune system Chronic stress can also lead to frequent ailments such as headaches, an upset stomach, and sleep difficulties.

Gaining insights into the different types of stress and how to recognize them may help. Causes of stress Some typical causes of acute or chronic stress include: living through a natural or manmade disaster living with chronic illness surviving a life-threatening accident or illness being the victim of a crime experiencing familial stressors such as: an abusive relationship an unhappy marriage prolonged divorce proceedings child custody issues caregiving for a loved one with a chronic illness like dementia living in poverty or being homeless working in a dangerous profession having little work-life balance, working long hours, or having a job you hate military deployment.

There’s no end to the things that can cause a person stress because they’re as varied as people are. Whatever the cause, the effect on the body can be serious if left unmanaged. Explore other personal, emotional, and traumatic causes of stress.

Symptoms of stress Just as we each have different things that stress us out, our symptoms can also be different. Although you’re unlikely to have them all, here are some things you may experience if you’re under stress: chronic pain insomnia and other sleep problems lower sex drive digestive problems eating too much or too little difficulty concentrating and making decisions fatigue You might feel overwhelmed, irritable, or fearful.

Whether you’re aware of it or not, you may be drinking or smoking more than you used to. Get a better understanding of the signs and symptoms of too much stress. Stress headache Stress headaches, also known as tension headaches, are due to tense muscles in the head, face, and neck.

Some of the symptoms of a stress headache are: mild to moderate dull head pain a band of pressure around your forehead tenderness of the scalp and forehead Many things can trigger a tension headache. But those tight muscles could be due to emotional stress or anxiety. Learn more about the triggers and remedies for stress headaches.