What is stress?

Stressed man in office

Feeling stressed out at one point or another is something with which most people can identify. Experiencing acute stress may even be beneficial. However, chronic stress can be difficult to manage and can lead to anxiety, as well as other health concerns. The University of Maryland Medical Center defines stressors as being either external (caused by negative stimuli including work and relationship stress) or internal (caused by physical or mental illness). Excessive stress can induce negative physical, emotional and behavioral side effects including digestive problems, anxiety and depression.

The American Institute of Stress breaks it into the following categories:

  • Acute stress – This refers to short-term stress that often triggers a “fight or flight” response in the body. This includes things that threaten imminent danger. It can also include other short-term stressors, like running late for work, for example.
  • Chronic stress – This is more long-term in nature. It can include situations related to work, money and family life, for example. This kind of stress is dangerous because it can build up, manifesting itself in the form of anxiety and other physical and emotional side effects.

How does stress affect the body?

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), chronic stress can be quite dangerous and can lead to:

  • Heart disease
  • Headaches
  • Appetite issues/becoming overweight or underweight
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Depression
  • Insomnia
  • Digestive problems
  • Fatigue
  • Drug/alcohol use

Treatment

According to the APA, taking the following steps can help improve overall health in the long-term:

  • Identifying what your stressors are can help in effectively managing your health. The APA suggests listing your stressors and then making a plan for addressing them.
  • Reaching out to friends and loved ones and asking for help is another recommended strategy. Sometimes people who are close to you can help you overcome your stressors.
  • Letting go of anger is also key. The APA recommends walking away from hostile situations and counting to 10 before reacting.
  • Exercising is another recommended strategy. In fact, taking a walk or going for a run when agitated can help bring down negative feelings.
  • Getting a good night’s sleep is essential to quieting the mind. The APA suggests cutting caffeine and not watching television at bedtime.
  • For those who are having difficulty managing it all on their own, reaching out to a mental health professional may be beneficial.

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