Definition of Stress - understanding the effects of stress

What is a definition of stress? You might think that a strange question. Don’t we all know what stress is? Don’t we all feel stressed, some of us occasionally, some of us frequently. However, you can know what stress feels like without really understanding it or why it has such bad effects on your mind and body.

It is not easy to define stress. You cannot hear it or see it but you know when you feel it. It produces measurable changes in your body chemistry. The dictionary definition: "suffering from tension" doesn't help us very much. My simple definition of stress is:

Stress is what you experience when you feel overwhelmed by things happening in your life. As a result you feel powerful emotions which you may find difficult to manage.

You may feel strong emotions for lots of reasons. You may be angry about something. You may be nervous about an interview or speaking in public. You may be afraid of being hurt by someone or of failing in something you really want to do. You can be excited about something and still feel stressed. You may feel that you just have too much to do. Also, it doesn't matter how old you are either, stress affects everyone.

How Stress Affects Your Body

So what is stress then? Although you can feel stress in many different situations, what happens inside your body is the same. This is a complicated process which I've done my best to simplify:

1. Something stresses you

2. This sets up alarm signals in your mind and body.

3. A special gland in your brain called the hypothalamus is stimulated by the alarm signals. It releases hormones which stimulate your adrenal glands.

4. Part of your adrenal glands (the adrenal cortex) produces cortisol and aldosterone which increases your blood sugar, reduces the efficiency of your immune system and reduces your allergic responses.

5. Another part of your adrenal glands (the adrenal medulla) produces norepinephrine (sometimes called adrenalin) and epinephrine which produce the fight-or-flight effect in the body. Your heart beats faster, your blood pressure increases and your blood sugar rises.

6. Some of the other effects of this process are:

- your body holds on to more water (water retention)

- the blood supply is reduced to your less active organs

- the blood supply is increased to more your active organs such as your heart

- your digestive processes slow down (or stop altogether if the stress is really strong)

As you can see from the above definition of stress, it has a big effect on your body. You are designed to feel stress for short periods of time and then relax. These chemical effects in your body are meant to help you either run away from danger or stand up and fight. However, in modern life you often cannot run away from what is stressing you, nor is fighting often a good option.

So you end up experiencing stress without any good methods of relieving it. And also, you may feel the symptoms of stress more often and for much longer than is good for you.

When you feel stressed the way your body functions changes. This can begin to have serious effects on your health. You can end up with all sorts of symptoms. You can become exhausted and even ill. Search this site for many tips and techniques to help you fight stress and become more relaxed.

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