Stress is a natural feeling that is created in the mind, and is the way the body responds to a particular threat. Stress triggers physiological, emotional and chemical reactions in the body through a complex signaling pathway between neurons and body cells.
Stress alters the neurochemical composition of the body. The hypothalamic, pituitary, adrenal (HPA) axis is a part of the central nervous system that also has endocrine functions and plays a major role in stress response system. It controls the secretion of hormones like epinephrine and cortisol, which help the person to cope with the stress.
Body systems like cardiovascular system, immune system, respiratory system, digestive system, sensory organs and brain witness changes in the presence of these hormones in order to ‘fight or flight’ the perceived threat.
Events that stimulate stress are called stressors. Stressors can be environment conditions, biological or chemical agents, stress causing events, work place problems, changes in life, etc.
There are two types of stress - Eustress and Distress. Eustress is short-term, exciting and is motivational. Distress is considered being beyond the coping capabilities and causes anxiety, concern, reduced performance and can last for a short or a long period of time.
Up to a certain point, stress isn’t bad, as it is just the body’s normal mechanism to stand up to the challenges, and helps in keeping motivation and morale high. But, beyond a point, it negatively impacts the quality of life.
Facts on Stress
- General causes of stress include major life changes, threats, fear, uncertainty, excessive worries, lack of adaptability, personal life events and conflicting thoughts or behavior.
- Signs and symptoms of stress include memory problems, lack of concentration, moodiness, irritability, low temperament, anger, body aches, diarrhea or constipation, changed eating patterns, nausea, etc.
- Affecting the body & the mind, stress deteriorates the overall well-being of a person and takes a heavy toll on one’s health. Some of the stress-related disorders include bodily pains, cardiovascular diseases, digestive problems, sleep disorders, autoimmune disorders, depression and weight problems.
- When cortisol and epinephrine hormones are released, more glucose is produced by the liver, contributing to type-2 diabetes.
- Stress leads to weight gain. Cortisol hormone stimulates cravings for sweet, salty and high fat foods, thereby leading to obesity.
- Stress can also cause stroke, especially in middle age and older adults.
- Excessive release of hormones into the bloodstream results in several physiological changes such as increased heart beat, blood pressure, rapid breathing, etc.
- In times of stress, the muscles become tensed and can trigger migraines, headaches, and other musculoskeletal problems. Premature aging and susceptibility to depression and anxiety are also important effects of stress.
- Stress can negatively impact the reproductive system. In men, sperm count reduces and stress can even cause impotence. In women, irregular menstrual cycles and more painful periods are commonly experienced.
- Chronic stress may trigger Telogen effluvium, a scalp disorder, leading to hair loss.
- Healthy ways of dealing with stress are helpful in the long run rather than resorting to unhealthy ways of de-stressing like consumption of alcohol and indulging in substance abuse, which will only aggravate the problem.
- Identifying the stressor is the focal point for stress management. Keeping a watch on one’s thoughts, emotions, behavior and schedule can help in managing stress.
- Setting priorities, associating with people who provide emotional support, and seeking help from a qualified counselor can help in coping with stress.
- Listening to music, aromatherapy, associating with friends, fun time with pets, volunteering a work, staying active, nurturing positive thoughts can act as immediate stress busters and help get rid of stress.
- Regular exercise enhances cognitive function, improves concentration and alertness and helps easily manage stress.
- Relaxation exercises and relaxation techniques like deep breathing, meditation, yoga, laughter and rhythmic exercise also help to combat stress. These exercises help in bringing the nervous system back to equilibrium.
- Stress and nutrition are correlated. Intake of specific foods helps reduce stress. A healthy stress-relieving diet includes foods rich in fiber, citrus fruits, avocados, berries, chocolates, cashews, oats, nuts, etc.
- Carbohydrate-rich food helps in stress management, as intake of carbohydrates raises the levels of serotonin, a chemical present in the body, which can help in reducing stress.
- Seeking psychotherapy and cognitive behavioral therapy lowers negative thinking and helps generate positive vibes. Also, when taken on the advice of a physician, stress medication can be effective in relieving stress, but the side effects cannot be ruled out.