What Is Stress?

We all deal with stress at some point in our lives. Maybe it’s your job, a family illness, or money troubles. These are common triggers. According to a recent study, about half of all Americans say they’re dealing with moderate stress.

But not all stress is bad. It can make you more aware of things around you and keep you more focused. In some cases stress can give you strength and help you get more done.

What Causes Stress?

Stress is different for everyone. What stresses you out may not even bother your best friend and vice versa.

Still, your bodies react the same to stressors. That’s because the stress response is your body’s way of dealing with tough or demanding situations. It causes hormonal, respiratory, cardiovascular, and nervous system changes. For example, stress can make your heart beat faster, make you breathe rapidly, sweat, and tense up. It can also give you a burst of energy.

This is known as the body’s “fight-or-flight response.” It’s this chemical reaction that prepares your body for a physical reaction because it thinks it’s under attack. This type of stress helped our human ancestors survive in nature.

Good Stress

Sometimes you can feel stressed for a short period of time. Usually it’s nothing to worry about. Like when you need to hand in a project, or you have to talk in front of a group of people. Maybe you feel “butterflies” in your stomach and the palms of your hands get sweaty.

These types of positive stressors are short-lived, and your body’s way of helping you get through what could be a tough situation.

Bad Stress

Sometimes, however, negative feelings can be very stressful. Maybe you’re worried, angry, scared, or frustrated. This kind of stress isn’t good for you, and over the long-term can cause serious problems.

While stress affects everyone differently, there are many causes of stress that can have a negative impact, including:

  • Being bullied
  • Working too hard
  • Losing a job
  • Marriage or relationship problems
  • Recent break up or divorce
  • Death in the family
  • Difficulty in school
  • Family problems
  • Busy schedule
  • Recent move

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Long-term Stress

If you let your stress spiral on for too long, it can have damaging effects on your physical, mental, and emotional health, especially if it becomes chronic. You need to be aware of the warning signs of chronic stress so you can take care of it.

Physical symptoms of chronic stress include:

Emotional symptoms of chronic stress include:

  • Feeling you can’t get things done
  • Moodiness
  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Lack of motivation
  • Irritability
  • Sadness or depression

Stress Overload

Sometimes you may feel like you have too much stress to handle. If you think you just can’t cope any longer, you may want to seek help from a specialist. Talk to your primary care doctor to see if she can help you determine whether what you’re experiencing is stress or an anxiety disorder.

She can also refer you to a mental health expert and provide you with additional resources and tools.

Signs of stress overload include:

If your stress has gotten to the point that you’re thinking of hurting yourself or someone else, go to the nearest emergency room or call 911. You can also call one of the free suicide prevention helplines, including the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255. You don’t need to give your name.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Joseph Goldberg, MD on November 6, 2016

Sources

SOURCES:

The American Institute of Health: “What Is Stress?”

KidsHealth.org: “The Story on Stress” and “TeensHealth: Stress.”

Stress Management Society: “What is Stress?”

National Institute on Mental Health: “Fact Sheet on Stress.”

Mayo Clinic: “Stress Management.”

Harvard Medical School: “Understanding the stress response.”

© 2016 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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