What is stress?

To understand how to manage stress, we must understand what stress is. Even if you are not a very big fan of medicine, we suggest that you do read this. It is a simplified explanation of what stress is. Understanding it will help you understand that “stress” is a very real thing. It exists and has severe medical consequences if you do not do anything about it.

So, what is stress?

From the time of the first human beings, stress has been with us. It is part of our natural response to “challenging” situations.

When our forefathers were faced with a dangerous and “challenging” situation, such as facing a wild animal, the “stress response” would make certain changes in the way the body functions.

Stress chemicals (such as adrenaline and cortisol) would be released, resulting in changes such as:

  • An increase of blood sugar for “instant energy”
  • Blood being diverted away from digestive system and skin to 'feed' the muscles
  • Faster and shallower breathing to “increase oxygen intake”

These, and other stress related changes were brought about for one thing only.... to deal quickly with the stressful situation. Once the situation had been resolved, the body would return to normal. The stress response was a life saver for early man!

The human stress response has NOT changed since the time of primitive man. However, the “situations that trigger stress” have changed a great deal.

Good Stress:

The changes brought about by stress can be a “positive” in situations that can be resolved within a “reasonable timescale”. An example of this might be an athlete preparing for a race or an actor preparing for a stage performance. In cases like these, heightened arousal produced by stress can improve performance.

We have probably all experienced situations, where the added edge of competition or a deadline has been the motivation we have needed for effective action. In these cases also, the bodily changes can be stepped down once the situation stimulating the stress has been resolved.

Bad Stress:

The problem with stress occurs when the situation producing the stress cannot be resolved within a reasonable time period. Remember, nature designed the stress response for “immediate action”. When this does not happen, the prolonged exposure to the stress chemicals and the changes they produce start to become harmful.

It becomes chemical warfare in our own bodies and repetitive exposure to excessive and unresolved stress can lead to weakening of the immune system, physical and nervous exhaustion, illness and in extreme cases, death.

As mentioned before, the way our bodies respond to stress has not changed since prehistoric man, but the situations that cause us stress can be very different. Most of us no longer have to worry about hunting food or escaping from wild animals. But the high pressure and fast pace of modern living has brought with it many more stresses!

These stresses can vary from continually having to meet work related targets and unrealistic deadlines to being stuck in a traffic jam. A lot of these situations, especially when accumulated over time, can keep your body “flooded with stress chemicals” for far longer than nature intended. Unless we find ways to deal with this, the result is a deterioration in health.

How to deal with this problem?

Well first of all, we need to understand that stress in focused situations can be positive, but excessive or prolonged stress is harmful to our health. We need to take out time and to include activities which allow our bodies to rest, relax and flush away excess stress chemicals.

These activities will vary according to the individual and might include spending time with your family, exercise, reading a book, following a hobby, or just simply taking a 'chill out' break to chat to friends. Anything that gives your mind and body a break.

In this article we will talk about many specific things that one can do to give his mind and body a break and get rid of the excessive stress chemicals.

But before we go into that, just incase you are not convinced about what kind of an effect stress can have on your body, we have given you a huge list of reasons why you should take your stress seriously and take care of it right away.

Next - The damage that stress can do... >>

<< Previous - The worst thing about stress!

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Table Of Contents

  1. How to manage stress? - The worst thing about stress!
  2. What is stress?
  3. The damage that stress can do...
  4. Practical tips and techniques to deal with stress
  5. Stress at the workplace