Stress Defined: What Is The Real Cause?

What is stress?

Stress is sometimes used to describe challenges or threats, like, “Kelly was under a lot of stress”, or other times to describe our responses “When Cindy saw the spider, she experienced acute stress”. Some psychologists would define Kelly’s missed plane flight as a “stressor,” and Cindy’s physical and emotional responses as a “stress reaction,”. Together both are a process by which Kelly and Cindy related to their environments as stress.

However, stress is not just a stimulus or a response. It is the process by how we look at situations, cope with challenges and environmental threats. The events of our lives pass through a psychological filter. Stress arises less from events themselves than from how we look at them.

One person, alone in a house, dismisses its creaking noises and experiences no stress, as someone else suspects a burglar and becomes alarmed. One person regards a new job as a welcome challenge, someone else sees it as a risk of failure.

When perceived as challenges, stressors can have positive effects, arousing and motivating us to conquer problems. Championship athletes, successful entertainers, and great teachers and leaders all thrive and move forward when aroused by a challenge. Having conquered cancer or rebounded from a lost job, some people emerge with stronger self-esteem and deepened spirituality and sense of purpose.

Some stress and physical stimulation early in life is conducive to later emotional resilience and physical growth. As many of us have experienced bad things sometimes work for good. But stressors can also threaten our resources, our status and security on the job, our beliefs, our self-image. And experiencing severe or prolonged stress may harm us. Those who had post-traumatic stress reactions to heavy combat in the Vietnam War went on to suffer greatly high rates of circulatory, digestive, respiratory, and infectious diseases.

What events provoke stress responses?

Research studies have studied individuals responses to three types of stressors, catastrophes, significant life changes, and daily hassles.

Catastrophes:
Are unpredictable, large scale events such as terrorists attacks and natural disasters that nearly everyone sees as threatening. Although people often provide one another with aid as well as comfort after such events, the health consequences can be significant.

About 52 studies of catastrophic floods, hurricanes, and fires, found in disaster’s wake, rates of psychological disorders such as depression and anxiety rose an average 17%. In all the cases studied, health consequences often come only after prolonged stress.

Significant Life Changes:
The second type of life event stressors is a personal life change, leaving home, the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, a marriage or divorce. Life transitions and insecurities are often felt during young adulthood. Some psychologists study the health effects of life changes by following people over time to see if such events cause illnesses. Others compare the life changes recalled by those who have or have not suffered a health problem, such as a heart attack.

A review of these studies by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences revealed that people recently widowed, fired, or divorced are more vulnerable to disease. A study of 96,000 widowed people confirmed the phenomenon, their risk of death doubled in the week following their partner’s death. Experiencing several crises puts one even more at risk.

Daily Hassles:
Our happiness tends to stem less from enduring good fortune than from our responses to daily events, an A on an exam, a gratifying letter, your teams’ winning the big game. Everyday hassles may be the largest sources of stress.

Daily hassles include, rush hour traffic, aggravating roommates, long lines at the store or bank, too many things to do, and misplacing things. Although some people can simply shrug them off, others are driven up the wall by such hassles. In fact, 6 in 10 people say they feel great stress at least once a week.

Over time, these little stressors can add up and take a toll on our health and well being. Hypertension, or high blood pressure rates are high among citizens of urban or ghettos, where the stresses that come with poverty, unemployment, single parenting, and overcrowding are part of daily life for some people.

What can I do to manage, and reduce stress? Stressors are unavoidable. This fact, coupled with the growing awareness that recurring stress can cause heart disease, lowered immunity, anxiety disorders, and depression gives us a clear message.

If we cannot eliminate stress by changing or ignoring a situation, it is best for us to learn how to manage it, by confronting or escaping the problem and taking steps to prevent its recurrence. Stress management may include, aerobic exercise, biofeedback, relaxation, and social support.

Aerobic exercise, such as running, appears to counteract depression partly by increasing arousal, replacing depressions low arousal state, and by doing naturally what Prozac does, increasing the brain’s serotonin activity.

Friendships are good medicine also, several long term studies of thousands of people have found that individuals with close supportive relationships are less likely than socially isolated people to die prematurely.

Photo: Pixabay

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