Stress Health Center

Stress is the body's normal response to situations that may involve danger, fear, or difficult life circumstances. In many instances, stress is a good and natural thing, often called the “fight or flight” response. When utilized properly, the stress response protects people in emergency situations, giving someone the strength, alertness, or energy to defend themselves or make quick decisions. In day to day circumstances, stress helps people accomplish daily challenges, such as meeting deadlines, making appointments, and driving people forward with productivity instead of procrastination.

However, when stress becomes unmanageable, it can have a serious impact your health, such as causing headaches, ulcers, back pain and trouble sleeping. Long term stress can also contribute to heart disease, diabetes, autoimmune diseases and obesity. Previously existing health problems can become worse. Mental health can suffer as well, causing a depressed mood, affecting relationships and quality of life.

Causes of stress are usually thought of as being negative events, such as work stress or personal life stress. However, positive life events can also be stressful, such as the birth of a child, getting married, or even getting a promotion at work. Whether a situation becomes stressful is dependent on the person's perception of the event. Common causes of external stress can include life changes (death of a parent, birth of a child), work stress, difficulty with a romantic relationship or friendship, being overextended and too busy, or one of the most common stressors, financial problems. People can also have internal causes of stress, such as being a perfectionist, being pessimistic, or having difficulty being assertive.

Symptoms of being overstressed may be very obvious or subtle. Some people can be very angry, agitated and emotional, while others may appear to 'shut down', showing little energy or emotion. Some people may show signs of both. Regardless, stress can affect all parts of the body. Someone may experience cognitive and emotional symptoms such as difficulty with memory and concentration, moodiness, irritability and agitation, anxiety and racing thoughts, and constant worry. People may feel lonely and depressed as well. Physically, an overstressed person may feel aches and pains, nausea, a loss of libido, and heart palpitations and a racing heartbeat. They may start behaviors that are similar to those of people with depression, such as increasing their use of alcohol or tobacco, eating or sleeping too much or too little, and generally neglecting their responsibilities.

It can be extremely difficult for some people to manage chronic stress, as the causes may not be something that can be removed from someone’s life. However, there are numerous methods that people can use to attempt to manage stress. Physical activity is one of the most used techniques, as it has been repeatedly shown that exercise and working out give excellent results. Relaxation therapies such as yoga, meditation and deep breathing can also help alleviate both long term stressors as well as provide short term benefit. Some people with long term stress may benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness based stress relief.

Review Date: 
March 14, 2012
Last Updated:
June 28, 2013