What is Stress?
Stress can be defined as the way you feel when you’re under abnormal pressure. Everyone experiences stress from time to time, and it is a natural physical and mental reaction to life events. The below infographic from Study Medicine Europe examines the science of stress and offers an in-depth look as to how stress can affect the body.
Did you know that a whopping 75 – 90% of all doctor’s office visits are for stress-related ailments and complaints? In a 2014 study by the American Psychological Association, it was found that 77% of those surveyed regularly experienced physical symptoms caused by stress. These physical symptoms included:
Fatigue - 51 % Headache - 44 % Upset stomach - 34 % Muscle tension - 30 % Change in appetite - 23 % Feeling dizzy - 13 %
The Science of The Stress Response
To gain a greater insight into how stress affects our physical health, you need to have some understanding of what goes on in the brain. When we feel stressed-out, the brain sends out a distress signal which results in the body being flooded with adrenaline. This sets off our “fight or flight response” which essentially puts the body into survival mode by triggering several physiological changes, such as:
Faster heart beats that push blood to all of the vital organs
Rapid breathing to take in as much oxygen as possible
Extra oxygen sent to the brain to boost sensory alertness
Blood sugar and fats flood the bloodstream to energize all body parts
The brain then releases a stress hormone called cortisol which can temporarily change or shut down functions that get in the way of survival. Research suggests that that the physical symptoms of stress are caused by this response which diverts attention away from the usual bodily functions.
Sometimes, the stress response can be a positive thing – giving us the energy and focus we need to get through high-pressure situations. When regularly experienced over a sustained period, however, stress can have a dangerous effect on our well-being and can give rise to a condition known as chronic stress. Chronic stress has been linked with an elevated risk of contracting a wide range of conditions and illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes and depression.
Stress Management Techniques
We all know about the importance of looking after our physical health, but many of us don’t know how to be proactive about our mental health. A key part of maintaining positive mental health is learning effective stress management techniques.