What is Stress?
Stress is defined as the body's response to a certain trigger usually having to do with change. Everyone has experienced stress at some point in their life. So what are the triggers of stress (or what makes people stressed out)? Here are some of the common triggers of stress:
- Spouse/Significant Other
- Job Interview
- Doctor's Appointments
- Death of a Loved One
- Chronic Illness
- Weight Issues
- Growing Older
- Losing a Pet
- Being Bullied or Harassed
- State of the World
- Job Loss
The list goes on and on. Different triggers of stress can cause different reactions in different people. The change can be short-term or long-term, violent or non-violent, moderate or extreme. For example, a change in occupation can be stressful, even if you are moving to a better-paying job. Being bullied is also a common form of stress, especially in the hormonal teenage years (when we see all the violence on on the news). Everyone deals with stress differently so it is important to manage your stress levels.
Signs of Stress
There are many signs of stress. Because everyone deals with stress differently, it is important to know that there are many, many signs of stress or over-stress.
- Grinding Teeth
- Neck Pain (hence the term "a pain in my neck")
- Sweaty Palms
- Feeling Overwhelmed
- Appetite Decrease or Increase
- Stopped Laughing
- Drug Use
- Alcohol Abuse
- Impulse Buying
- Suicidal Thoughts (If you or anyone you know is feeling suicidal, please see the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.)
- Crying Spells
- Chest Pains
Stress and Health Consequences
Almost every health issue has stress as a component. The connection between stress and high blood pressure, heart disease, and many digestive problems is well-established in medical literature. Stress makes hormonal changes, blood sugar changes, causes the body to excrete nutrients, and adversely affects the immune system.
According to the National Institute of Stress, there are many bodily functions that are affected or impaired when you are stressed. It is easy to underestimate the ability for stress to alter your body's natural functions. Read on to see what stress does to your body.
Musculoskelatal System: Ever get a stress headache? When your body is under stress, your muscles tend to tense up. These muscle contractions can lead to tension headaches, migraines, and cramps.
Endocrine System: The endocrine system includes the adrenal glands and the liver. When you are stressed, the brain sends signals to the hypothalamus which causes the adrenal cortex to produce cortisol and the adrenal medulla to produce epinephrine. In response, the liver produces more glucose (blood sugar that would give your the burst of energy needed for a fight or flight situation).
Respiratory System: Sometimes during times of extreme stess, breathing may become difficult. Stress makes some people breathe rapidly, leading to hyperventilation and panic attacks.
Nervous System: Your nervous system has a fight or flight response to stress. That means that the sympathetic nervous system tells the adrenal glands to release the hormones adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones boost glucose level, make the heart beat faster, alter digestion, and raise blood pressure. In the initial stage, the adrenal glands enlarge and the blood supply to them increases. As the stress continues, the adrenal glands begin to shrink. Eventually, if the stress continues, the adrenal glands reach the third stage, which is adrenal exhaustion. Consistent stress like this can lead to adrenal fatigue. The most common sign of adrenal exhaustion is waking up every night between the hours of 2 AM and 4 AM with difficulty in getting to sleep again.
Reproductive System: For men, chronic stress can affect the normal reproductive system functions which can lead to decreased sperm counts, impotence, and low testosterone levels. For women, stress can cause low libido, irregular menstrual cycles, and more painful periods.
Cardiovascular System: Have you noticed that when you are stressed your heart feels like it is pounding out of your chest? That is because stress causes an increase in heart rate along with stronger contractions of the heart. Blood vessels dilate to increase blood flow to the large muscles. Extended periods of stress can cause inflammation of the coronary arteries (thought to lead to heart attacks).
Gastrointestinal System: Stress often causes people's appetites to shift (either by over eating or under eating). If the stress is severe enough, you may experience nausea or vomiting. Additional stress-induced digestive issues may include diarrhea, constipation, and poor mineral absorption.
Pre-Disposing Stress Factors
You are more likely to be stressed if you have any of the following:
- A diet high in sugar or refined carbohydrates.
- Digestive issues.
- A mineral deficiency (especially with Vitamin D).
- External environmental stressors.
- A lack of exercise.
- A history of abuse.
- Chinese Patent Medicine. Hong Kong: Chinese Patent Medicine and Medicated Liquor Exhibition, 1972. Print.
- "Commons Signs Of Stress." The American Institute Of Stress. Accessed November 16 2015. <http://www.stress.org/stress-effects/>.
- Holmes, Peter. Jade Remedies. a Chinese Herbal Reference for the West. Boulder (Colo.): Snow Lotus, 1996. Print.
- Rector-Page, Linda G., and Sarah Abernathy. Healthy Healing. California: Healthy Healing, 2011. Print.
- Weil, Andrew. Natural Health, Natural Medicine: A Comprehensive Manual for Wellness and Self-care. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1990.