What is Stress?

Stress is a biological term which refers to the consequences of the failure of a human or animal body to respond appropriately to emotional or physical threats to the organism, whether actual or imagined. It includes a state of alarm and adrenaline production, short-term resistance as a coping mechanism, and exhaustion. It refers to the inability of a human or animal body to respond. Common stress symptoms include irritability, muscular tension, inability to concentrate and a variety of physical reactions, such as headaches and accelerated heart rate.

The term “stress” was first used by the endocrinologist Hans Selye in the 1930s to identify physiological responses in laboratory animals. He later broadened and popularized the concept to include the perceptions and responses of humans trying to adapt to the challenges of everyday life. In Selye’s terminology, “stress” refers to the reaction of the organism, and “stressor” to the perceived threat. Stress in certain circumstances may be experienced positively. Eustress, for example, can be an adaptive response prompting the activation of internal resources to meet challenges and achieve goals.

The term is commonly used by laypersons in a metaphorical rather than literal or biological sense, as a catch-all for any perceived difficulties in life. It also became a euphemism, a way of referring to problems and eliciting sympathy without being explicitly confessional, just “stressed out”. It covers a huge range of phenomena from mild irritation to the kind of severe problems that might result in a real breakdown of health. In popular usage almost any event or situation between these extremes could be described as stressful.

Stress Defined:

Stress refers to the strain from the conflict between our external environment and us, leading to emotional and physical pressure. In our fast paced world, it is impossible to live without stress, whether you are a student or a working adult. There is both positive and negative stress, depending on each individual’s unique perception of the tension between the two forces. Not all stress is bad. For example, positive stress, also known as eustress, can help an individual to function at optimal effectiveness and efficiency.

Hence, it is evident that some form of positive stress can add more color and vibrancy to our lives. The presence of a deadline, for example, can push us to make the most of our time and produce greater efficiency. It is important to keep this in mind, as stress management refers to using stress to our advantage, and not on eradicating the presence of stress in our lives.

On the other hand, negative stress can result in mental and physical strain. The individual will experience symptoms such as tensions, headaches, irritability and in extreme cases, heart palpitations. Hence, whilst some stress may be seen as a motivating force, it is important to manage stress levels so that it does not have an adverse impact on your health and relationships.

Part of managing your stress levels include learning about how stress can affect you emotionally and physically, as well as how to identify if you are performing at your optimal stress level (OSL) or if you are experiencing negative stress. This knowledge will help you to identify when you need to take a break, or perhaps seek professional help. It is also your first step towards developing techniques to managing your stress levels.

Modern day stresses can take the form of monetary needs, or emotional frictions. Competition at work and an increased workload can also cause greater levels of stress. How do you identify if you are suffering from excessive stress? Psychological symptoms commonly experienced include insomnia, headaches and an inability to focus. Physical symptoms take the form of heart palpitations, breathlessness, excessive sweating and stomachaches.

What causes stress? There are many different causes of stress, and that which causes stress is also known as a stressor. Common lifestyle stressors include performance, threat, and bereavement stressors, to name a few. Performance stressors are triggered when an individual is placed in a situation where he feels a need to excel. This could be during performance appraisals, lunch with the boss, or giving a speech. Threat stressors are usually when the current situation poses a dangerous threat, such as an economic downturn, or from an accident. Lastly, bereavement stressors occur when there is a sense of loss such as the death of a loved one, or a prized possession.

Thus, there are various stressors, and even more varied methods and techniques of dealing with stress and turning it to our advantages. In order to do so, we must learn to tell when we have crossed the line from positive to negative stress.

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