We all know
the feeling. Your mind starts racing, cold sweats, headaches…the list goes on.
Stress affects everybody at some point. Anything from getting a cold, seeing
that gas light suddenly illuminate on the dashboard while on a long stretch of
highway, or even seeing your final assignment due in 6 hours are all different things
that can cause you to be stressed out.
guide, we are going to look at stress in its entirety. We’ll define and discuss
it and talk about how the body responds to it. We’ll talk about stressful life
events and the impact of stress on health. And we’ll finish up with discussing
coping with stress and managing it.
of this guide is to give you a better understanding of what stress is, what
causes it and how we can deal with it. In the future, whenever you feel
stressed, you’ll be able to reach back to this guide and navigate yourself
through your stressful time confidently.
Stress Definitions and Discussions
dictionary defines stress as “…a physical, chemical, or emotional factor that
causes bodily or mental tension and may be a factor in disease causation…” (Merriam-Webster, 2017).
we can take from this is that stress is any factor, internal or external, that
places our bodies or minds under unecessary strain.
Stress can have
an adverse affect on all of your bodily systems. If you can name it, stress can
get to it. It can cause you to feel nauseous (digestive system), it can render
you short of breath (cardiovascular system) and it can even make you sick
(immune system)! It is pretty clear to see that stress is a very demanding
factor to our bodies.
The symptoms of
stress can range from mild (i.e. feeling tired, mentally distracted) to severe
(i.e. development of chronic immune system issues, depression, fatal lack of
stress? Well it can be anything. The things that cause stress are known as stressors.
Stressors can be physical, emotional or even chemical (catching the flu, a
relationship breakup or vitamin/mineral deficiencies).
have a very different response to their stressors. Some people may “shut-in”
and want to stay indoors, others may seem to lose control, others may even
laugh hysterically at the smallest of things. There is absolutely nothig wrong
with any kind of reaction (DISCLAIMER: as long as it is not harmful to
yourself!! i.e. binge drinking, drug abuse, self mutilation, etc.)
Stress can be
helpful in some instances. It prepares your body for a fight! In some
individuals, stress can be a powerful motivator.
Psychological Association (APA) has identified three different types of stress,
that all require different types of attention:
type of stress is typically short term, and tends to be the most common way
stress presents itself. It is often brought on by overthinking the pressures of
things have just happened, or are about to (e.g. an argument, or an upcoming
deadline). Usually, once the stressors are removed, the stress will be reduced
stress does not bring the same damaging effects as chronic stress. The side
effects of this form will include things like tension headaches, nauseau and a
generalized feeling of distress.
acute stress sounds easy and innocent, repeated instances do have the risk of
developing into chronic, harmful problems.
Episodic Acute Stress
who end up experiencing acute stress frequently, or who live with constant
stress triggers are described as suffering from episodic acute stress. People
who take on too much, and have poor organizational skills find themselves at a
high risk of this form of stress and its symptoms. Those symptoms include
irritability and tension, which both can be detrimental to relationships. Those
who worry too much are also at a higher risk of this form.
episodic acute stress does carry more severe risks. It brings a danger of high
blood pressure and heart disease.
form of stress is by far the most dangerous and harmful type of stress. It will
grind away at a person over long periods of time. Severely negative
circumstances (poverty, dysfunctional family, etc.) can trigger chronic stress
– especicailly when the individual may never see a way out of their situation,
and gives up looking for a solution all together.
real danger of chronic stress is that it can continue unnoticed for quite long,
as people will become accustomed to it, and enable it to become a part of their
who suffer from chronic stress are at a very high risk of a potentially fatal
break, that can end with suicide. Health-wise, it stays on the severe side,
increasing the risk of stroke, heart attack and even self-harm.
psychology will play a huge role here. It is the study of behaviour in relation
to the environment. This is the link between our psychological state and the space
around us. The places we live, visit and work at can all affect our stress
levels and how we react to the different stressors found in each. To simplify
this, think of a person living in the Artic compared to someone in an average
climate. The person in the Arctic will always have to be thinking and planning
ahead. Gathering wood, ensuring food supply is sufficient, making sure clothing
is dry and ready to be layered, etc. That environment presents its own stressors
that will require a unique behavioral response, eventually altering how that
person lives and behaves on a day to day basis.
a type of stress that we will all encounter that will be positively beneficial
to ourselves. Things like exercise and vacations are all big events that will
trigger a response, but it will be a good one. The thing to look for here is
the body’s releasing of endorphins – the chemical in your body that makes you feel
the oppostite of eustress. Simply put, distress is a type of stress that has a
negative effect. They bring on those dreaded feelings of anxiety, pain, anger,
sadness and the like.
The Stress Response System
we’ve already discussed, stress is a biological and psychological response to
any internal or external factors.
bodies do have its own system for responding to and handling stress. This
system is simply called The Stress Response System.
starts off with our body analyzing the situation and deciding if stress is
present. This decision is based on sensory input (what we see, what we hear,
etc.) and our own memories of past events.
If stress is found, the brain activates the hypothalamus, which is located at the
base of the brain. This is the part of the brain that oversees responding to
When the hypothalamus triggers a stress
response, it emits signals to two other parts of the brain – the pituitary gland and the adrenal medulla.
short-term responses are produced by the fight
or flight response system, through the Sympathomedullary
term stress is regulated by the Hypothalamic
Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) system.
fight or flight system is our body’s way of determining whether to leave the
situation as soon as possible or stay and try to work through it. This system will
vary from person to person, as some people will have stronger moves to fight,
while others will tend to “flight” more.
important things to note:
stress hormones is an objective way to measure stress.
fight or flight response can be found in all mammals.
level and type of hormones released by the body varies largely from person to
person, and in reaction to different stressors.
without adrenal glands need hormone supplementation in order to survive stress.
See slides 7 & 8 for basic
breakdowns of the two pathways mentioned above.
Stressful Life Events
should come as no surprise that life is full of stressful events. Everyday, we
all encounter all kinds of situations and events that have the potential to
activate our stress response systems.
is very important to remember that the things that stress you out may not
stress out another person. We all have vastly different and individualized
responses to stress.
This means that every single person will have a
completely different response to stress. You may shrug off getting a C on a
test, but somebody else may see that as earth shattering!
scale has been created to rank and compare stressful life events. This scale is
called the Social Readjustment Rating
Scale (SRRS) but is more commonly known as the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale.
Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale is often used by practitioners to connect stress
and future illness.
See slide 10 for top 10 stressful
events for adults and “non-adults”
The more stressful the event, the
higher likelihood of illness. This has been shown to be constant across
cultures (Japan and Malaysia were also examined against the United States). It
also showed to be constant among different racial groups in the United States
(African, Hispanic, and Caucasians).
Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale clearly shows the correlation between high levels
of stress and physical illness.
Each life event is applied a score (“life
change unit”) and added up over the course of a year. The higher the score, the
more likely you are to become ill.
Scores over 300 put the individual at a very
high risk of illness, 150-299 shows a moderate risk, and scores less than 150
present a low risk.
scale has illustrated that there is a clear difference between adults and
“non-adults” regarding what stresses them and how they cope. It shows that the
“non-adults” do struggle quite a bit more with coping with stress and may
require help navigating through it.
Logically, this makes sense. Adults will typically
have more life experience, and more experience dealing with stressful events.
This will allow them to be a little better suited for coping with stress.
It also helps draw emphasis to the fact that
everybody reacts differently. You may see that scale, and laugh at what
stresses some people out, but some of those events are critical to others.
we said earlier, stress is everywhere. It is a big part of our lives. By
reading and using this guide, it will help you to understand what is happening
to you, why it is happening, what your body is doing to fight it, and most
importantly, how we can cope and eventually manage our stress more efficiently.
Stress: Its Impact on
Stress can have a wide range of effects on your
health. Sometimes you may not even know that stress is causing what is ailing
Stress that is not handled appropriately can
begin to compound and develop into massive health problems. Things like heart
disease, chronic headaches, obesity and even diabetes can all come from not
taking care of yourself when dealing with stress.
Stress can become a real nuisance. During those
times where you may find yourself beaten and not in control, it becomes very
easy to let go of your health regiments and let it all go.
tension or pain
in sex drive
or alcohol abuse
or alcohol abuse
we can catch some of the abnormal symptoms and signs before they become problematic,
we can potentially prevent a major health issue. This means that it is important
to understand what homeostasis is for you. What are you like when you’re calm
and have nothing to worry about or stress over? How do you act normally? How do
you feel when there is not a care in the world?
has the potential to accelerate or amplify existing medical conditions. As we
discussed earlier, stress can weaken your immune and nervous systems. A person suffering
from a terminal illness (i.e. HIV/AIDS, lupus, MS, irritable bowel syndrome)
can experience quickening and amplification of their conditions. Since the
immune and nervous systems may be weakened by stress, the body’s way of
fighting these conditions is no longer able to do so. This ends up being a kind
of double negative, as being diagnosed with and living with these conditions is
already stressful enough and can potentially put a person into a state of chronic
Coping with Stress/Stress
Being able to manage and deal with our stress is
what we call coping. This is what
allows you to still wake up and lead a productive life.
There are many different types of ways that an
individual can learn to cope with their stress. We’re going to have a look at
three ways here:
As the name suggests, anticipatory
coping is acknowledging and “bracing yourself” for the stressors to hit. This suggests
that an individual is worrying about and dealing with stress before it is even
a reality for them. From personal experience, the military does this quite often.
A lot of time is spent preparing for potential catastrophic and/or fatal events
that may never even materialize. There is a lot of emphasis on rehearsing
drills and getting yourself stressed out, all to prepare for an event that will
likely be more stressful when it actually occurs.