What is stress?

what is stress

Stress is a physiological reaction that occurs when the body experiences elevated levels of the hormones cortisol and adrenaline for prolonged periods. It can be caused by intellectual, emotional, physical, environmental, or psychological responses.

What is Stress?

Acute and Chronic Stress

Everyone experiences stress. The response is normal and designed to keep us out of trouble. We developed it back in ancient times when we were prey for big cats and other predators.

Stress activates the sympathetic nervous system response called the “fight-or-flight” mode. However, today, we don’t have any predators hunting us at night, so why do we still experience this? Today’s modern world has many “stressors” that activate the sympathetic nervous system.

Financial pressures, danger from criminals attacking us, and even falling into a freezing lake can be a trigger. It’s not stress that is the problem; how we deal with it and the duration of the response on our physiology makes the difference. Listed below are two types of stress:

  • Acute– Response occurs within minutes or hours of experiencing a stressor. It is short term and can last a few hours, days, or weeks.
  • Chronic– This occurs over months or even years. It may be intermittent, going away and returning.

Everyone experiences acute stress from time to time, such as dealing with the passing of a loved one or feeling overwhelmed at work. Some situations can cause the nervous system to trigger the fight or flight response. This response triggers a person to stay and fight or run away and flee from the source of stress.

Chronic stress is a problem. When we experience this long term, it creates physical and mental health risks for the body. Sometimes we are unable to cope with stress on our own, these risks result in the need for help with managing stress.

What are the Symptoms of Stress?

The autonomic nervous system is host to the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems. The sympathetic nervous system is the side of the ANS that causes a response. When we experience stress, it can manifest with physical and psychological symptoms.

Physical Symptoms

Stress can create anxiety in the body, manifesting as physical symptoms that are very noticeable in your physiology. Here are some of the common signs.

  • Pain and aching
  • Chest pain or increased heart rate
  • Palpitations
  • Insomnia and issues with sleep
  • Shaking, dizziness, and headaches (migraines)
  • High blood pressure
  • Clenching or tightness in the jaw
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Weakening of the immune system
  • Digestive issues

Mental Symptoms

Stress also affects our minds, thought processes, and decision-making. In some cases, the advancement can lead to an anxiety disorder and can result in mental health problems for some individuals. Here are some of the signs.

  • Irritation
  • Anxiety
  • Panic attacks
  • Depression
  • Feelings of sadness

How to Cope & When to Seek Help

If you’re dealing with acute stress, something as simple as talking to a relative or friend or relaxing with a cup of tea, or doing some deep breathing can resolve the problem. You’ll usually feel fine after a few hours or days when the stressor subsides.

If you’re dealing with chronic stress, it’s a different story. This can cause you to develop problems with alcohol or drugs as a coping mechanism to deal with your issues. These unhealthy habits can contribute to heart disease and circulatory issues. If you’re experiencing this, the best thing to do is speak to a licensed psychotherapist who can help you with stress management.

They’ll help you talk out the problems, and they can prescribe medications, like Xanax or Valium (benzodiazepines), or they can issue SSIRs (antidepressants) to help you alleviate the prolonged effect of stress on your psyche.

Some people respond well to drug treatments and therapy, while others don’t. Everyone is different. However, you’ll need to take action to resolve chronic stress, or it will end up ruining your life.

Never attempt to deal with chronic stress by yourself – life is hard, but it doesn’t have to be hell. If you are feeling stressed and unable to manage your feelings, it may be time to talk to a professional.

Blue Sky Counseling – Mental Health Counseling Omaha, NE

I, Carly Spring, M.S., LIMHP, LADC, CPC, offer my specialized expertise to assist in the healing process to anyone who may be experiencing and suffering from a vast spectrum of mental health issues. Such mental health issues include behavioral problems, anxiety, depression, grief, loss, trauma, addiction issues, and life transitions. I believe strongly in applying a holistic perspective addressing your whole person not just the bits and pieces of you. Contact us with any questions or to talk with a mental health counselor in Omaha today.