Search

Stress Center

Stress

Stress
Stress is your body's response to change.  We all experience stress sometimes. For some people, psychological stress occurs before public speaking. For others, stress may occur as a result of a busy lifestyle. What causes stress for you may not be stressful for someone else.  But when is stress helpful and when can it be harmful?

Does stress help or harm?
Stress is a normal psychological and physical reaction to the demands of life. Sometimes stress is helpful - it can encourage you to meet a deadline or get things done. But long-term stress can increase the risk of diseases like depression, heart disease and a variety of other problems. When you're unable to cope well with the stress in your life, your mind and body may pay the price.

The natural stress response
Your body reacts to stress in a way originally meant to protect you against perceived threats from predators and aggressors. The "fight-or-flight response" is a natural alarm system.  During a moment or period of stress, the hypothalamus gland sends nerve and hormonal signals to the adrenal glands (located above your kidneys).  Then, the adrenal glands release a surge of hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol, into the body to provoke action.  The stress response also communicates with regions of your brain that control mood, motivation and fear.

1.  Adrenaline - Adrenaline is a chemical in the body that increases heart rate, elevates blood pressure and boosts energy supplies.

2.  Cortisol - Cortisol is the primary stress hormone in the body.  When released, cortisol increases glucose sugars in the bloodstream, enhances the brain's use of glucose and increases the availability of substances that repair tissues. Cortisol also helps alter immune system, digestive system, reproductive system and growth processes to redirect energy from non-essential to critical actions in the body.

Types of stress
Different types of stress exist, each with its own characteristics, duration, and approaches. Let's take a look at each one.

Acute stress  - Acute stress is the most common form of stress. Acute stress develops from the demands and pressures of the recent past and anticipated demands and pressures of the near future.  Because it is short term, acute stress doesn't usually create the physical and psychological damage associated with long-term stress. Too much short-term stress, however, can lead to psychological distress, tension headaches, upset stomach, and other symptoms.

Episodic acute stress - Episodic acute stress is characterized by frequent experiences of acute stress caused by self-created pressure or worry.  During episodic acute stress, self-inflicted demands and pressures create patterns of crisis. This type of stress manifests as constant rushing, anxiety disorganization, chaos and hostility.  Additionally, it is common for people experiencing acute stress reactions to be over aroused, short-tempered, irritable, anxious, and tense.

Chronic stress  - Chronic stress is the constant stress of pressures and demands experienced day after day, year after year. Chronic stress destroys bodies, minds and lives through long-term attrition.  Chronic stress occurs when a person cannot find a way out of a miserable situation and sees no solution.  Some chronic stresses stem from traumatic, early childhood experiences that become internalized.

Some stressful situations can be extreme and may require special attention and care Stress-related illness called post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) develops after an event like war, physical or sexual assault, or a natural disaster.  To learn about the most common signs of stress and how to identify symptoms of acute stress from those of more long-term, chronic stress ... keep reading.  Our next section on signs of stress outlines these differences and lets you know when to seek help.

NEXT: Symptoms >>