Stress is defined as physical, emotional, or psychological strain due to detrimental circumstances. The source of the pressure or worry could be school, work, health, or even family life. The determining factor is if the situation can become a stimulus for feelings such as anxiety or panic. Note that stress can be a positive experience where there is short-term exposure (acute stress). Such cases can result in avoidance of danger; however, it becomes a concern when the exposure to stress is prolonged (chronic stress).
How Stress Works
The common belief is that stress is caused by negative and external factors such as overworking due to job requirements. However, the possibility exists that positive events such as the transition from high school to college or receiving a promotion can result in stress. Also, internal factors such as unrealistic expectations or pessimism can lead to stressful outcomes. Any factor that leads to stress is known as a stressor. Stressors are not set in stone as their ability to generate anguish depends on perception. This is the reason why some persons can remain calm in situations that others cannot.
The process of being stressed involves the generation and release of chemicals such as adrenaline, cortisol, and histamine. These chemicals have positive effects on the body when the exposure to them is limited. An example of this is the ability of adrenaline to enhance a workout session through increased blood flow to the muscles, which increases their performance. The negative effects come into play when stress becomes continuous and these chemicals begin to become damaging.
The adrenal glands which are located at the top of the kidneys produce adrenaline. Adrenaline causes the body to become tired and constant exposure to this results in fatigue. The mind soon follows the trend and so the ability to retain information, to focus, or to be motivated is reduced.
Apart from adrenaline production, there is also cortisol that is produced by the adrenal glands. Cortisol is useful in inflammation reduction, blood pressure regulation, sleep cycle control, blood pressure regulation, and management of how nutrients are used. Overproduction of cortisol is unfortunately much easier than it is of adrenaline as simply being concerned about an unfavorable outcome will trigger it. In other words, cortisol overproduction does not require real stress to be a possibility. The chemical negatively affects the immune system at that stage, which is why stressed individuals are more susceptible to various ailments. Blood pressure and cholesterol are also raised, and the probability of heart disease is increased.
Histamine is produced in mast cells and certain white blood cells. Whenever cortisol production increases, histamine production will also follow suit. The results of the presence of too much histamine can be any combination of nausea, stomach cramps, digestion anomalies, and flu-like symptoms.
The chemical reactions of stress are widespread and not all are mentioned here but it is important to note that stress can be quite harmful or even fatal if not managed and reduced.
The good news is that there are methods that can help in the reduction of chronic stress and the harm it brings to the body. The following methods are known to assist in this pursuit:
• Lower alcohol intake – Alcohol becomes a depressant when consumed in large quantities.
• Breathe slowly – Slow breaths reduce the body’s sense of anxiety and by extension the reaction to it. Quick breaths have the opposite effect.
• Get enough rest – A lack of rest results in irrational thinking from tiredness, which can put the mind into an anxious state.
• Seek assistance – Trained professionals in stress management and biofeedback techniques can help you lower your stress levels if you are unable to do so on your own.
Chronic stress is one of the highest risk factors for various health complications and premature death and its prevention and remediation are necessary for a chance at a healthy life.