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What Is Stress And How Does It Affect Me?

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Everyone, adults, teens, and even kids are experiencing more pressure to survive and succeed than ever before. Advancements in technology and globalization has intensified the game of life for most people. Expectations, demands and competition is greater than ever before. Unfortunately, most people tend to overlook how damaging their lifestyle can be on their health and well-being. The general attitude is to keep up or you're a failure, and you'll pay the consequences. They are caught up in the so called rat race, running as fast as they can, positioning themselves, but too often losing sight of staying healthy, dong what makes them happy and what their passionate about.

Some individuals have told me that they have a demanding, high stress job, as though they're proud, in an odd prestige way, to be in that situation. Some say that it's tough but they're coping, they have it under control. For others, the impact of the demands is causing havoc on their mental, emotional and physical well-being. It's only a matter of time before they start choking under high pressure, high-stress situations.

Stress and lifestyle tend to be inseparable these days. Too many people are losing sleep worrying about things, and are trying to keep up with a schedule that is just too busy and demanding. For many individuals, stress can be translated into depression, anxiety or pain. Learning how to indentify, manage, reduce and eliminate stress is critical towards reaching and sustaining a healthy lifestyle.

Stress is our physical, mental and chemical reaction to a strong, external or internal, stimuli that can cause psychological and physiological taxing demands. Stress is anything that stimulates/changes us, positively or negatively, from our calm, serene state. Stress is the body's way of rising to a challenge and preparing to meet a tough situation. Things that can cause stress can range from a physical reaction to something dangerous, overworked and exhausted to your surroundings or emotional reactions concerning relationships, health or financial matters.

Most of us only associate stress with negativity and being overwhelmed and not with good feelings such joy, excitement and happiness. The fact is that stress includes distress, the result of negative events, and eustress, the result of positive events. In a scenario where both a good stress event and a bad stress event occur at the same time, one type of stress does not cancel the other. Both stressful events cause stress because each impacts the body/mind in some way, regardless of the timing. In other words, we can experience both joy and sorrow at the same time.

Stress is a natural, intricate part of our daily lives and a small, short-term, well balanced amount of good and bad stress is actually good for you. Stress gives you some spice and excitement and it's almost impossible to live without it. Be aware, however, that both positive and negative stress are addictive because of the chemicals released during the stress response.

Any event that provoke stress is called a stressor. A stressor can be something external from the outside world or internal, self generated in the mind. An external stressful event can range from surviving physical danger, making a presentation, dealing with unpleasant people to a pleasant experience or situation.

Survival stress, also called the fight-or-flight syndrome, is a common response to danger that exists in all people and animals. The person, or animal, quickly reacts to physical danger by responding with a burst of energy to survive the dangerous situation.

An internal stress event is when people make themselves stressed out, worrying about something that happened, will happen or will not happen. Some people tend to worry to the point where they're experience serious, severe nervous or anxiety reactions. In some cases, they're worry about things they can't do anything about. In other cases, they're worry about something that happened in their past, or worry for no reason at all. The mind becomes flooded with thoughts and emotions. Some of these individuals even become addicted to this kind of thinking. And to satisfy their addiction, they'll look for stressful situations or feel stress about things that aren't stressful. Many are unaware or deny they're enjoying the drama but they are. Worry can be a major mental stressor and is one of the things that separate man from animals, as well as modern man from his caveman cousins, who apparently worried about only immediate problem. Worries about money, relationships, career, school, health, etc. can cause big stressors.

Stressors deriving from your surroundings, social interactions and activities can cause large amounts of stress, making you feel overwhelmed and that the situation is out of your control.

Regardless of the event, the body/mind automatically rises to that challenge and prepares to deal with the situation. The body/mind doesn't distinguish between physical and psychological threats, a life-or-death situation or a pleasant situation. It simply reacts to how stressful you think it is.

Nothing can actually give you stress, it's how you interpret and react to stressors that matters. You may have heard the expression, stress can kill you, it's actually your reaction to it. To a certain extent, being stressed-out is actually a choice. In order for stress to occur, you have to react to something and allow yourself to take over and overwrite your calm state. In other words, you are what you think when it comes to stress. Perception is reality. But if we can think our way to stress-induced funk, we can think our way out as well.

Stress is the outcome of reacting to something negatively or positively.

Positive stress, called eustress, is healing stresses that's good for you and feels good too. A pleasant reaction is usually not labeled as a stress reaction but it is. For instance, experiencing a special moment with a family member or friend can make you feel joy and happiness. Watching your favorite sports team win a game can make you excited. In both examples, your emotions surge and chemicals like adrenalin are flowing through-out your body/mind. Happy, happy, joy, joy! An exhilarating, motivating stress that gets the heart pumping, increases your breathing rate and is critical to feeling increased energy, excited, motivated and interested in getting on with your life. Positive stress can even move your body and mind to near superhuman feats. We're fine as long as the demand are short, easy and well-balanced. Unfortunately, that pleasant state usually doesn't last long.

Distress, often labeled as a stress, is our negative reaction to a stimulus. How we cope or manage negative stress could mean the difference between being healthy and sick, happy and clinically depressed.

Stress begins in the mind. Under normal circumstances, when a person is in a serene, calm state of mind, the "firing" of neurons in an area of the brain called the locus ceruleus is minimal. That changes quickly when a person encounters a negative stressor and goes through the three phases or stages of stress response mode.

First, the body/mind detects the stimulus, a negative stressor and reacts by rushing a danger signal to your brain, which starts a biochemical chain reactions that trigger or trips your stress-alert system. (Warning Will Robinson!)

Secondly, the body/mind tries to adapt and engages defensive countermeasures against the stressor. The mind goes into a high alert, flight-or-fight, acute stress response mode. The brain quickly sends a message through nerves that branch from your brain down through your spine and out to the rest of your body. The message goes to your voluntary nervous system, which directs your skeletal system to contract and get those legs churning and those arms flailing. Contacting about 1,030 separate skeletal muscles in your body that accounts for almost half your body weight creates a lot of tension. The message also goes from your hypothalamus, a neural center in your brain, to your autonomic nervous system that controls all the involuntary organ functions that happen whether you tell them to or not.

The autonomic system, for its part, subdivides into sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, which serve opposite functions. The sympathetic system is the body's ultimate fire alarm. It commands the pituitary gland to release hormones, epinephrine and norepinephrine, into the body. Another important class of hormones, secreted by the adrenal gland within the pituitary, are glucocorticoids, or cortisol. While epinephrine acts within seconds, glucocorticoids are activated over the course of minutes or hours.

Together, these chemicals flood your bloodstream. They send heart rate and blood pressure soaring. They force your throat muscles, nostril passages and your eyes to open wider. They temporarily halt digestion in your stomach and intestines. They stop the secretion of saliva and mucus. They make you sweat. They dilate the pupils of your eyes. You get goose pimples and blush.

As mentioned, the parasympathetic nervous system has the opposite job: to calm and slow the body down, promote growth and store energy. When the brain activates the sympathetic system, though, it inhibits the parasympathetic system. In other words, your brain shuts down its primary calming mechanism to force you to stay alert and ready.

You become wide-eyed to see danger better. Breathing accelerates to get more oxygen into your bloodstream. Blood rushes faster to fuel muscles tensed for action. Digestive processes are cut off so that blood can go where it's needed. Sweat cools off your body, enabling it to burn more energy. The stage is now set for action.

Third, the body/mind begins to run out of defenses and exhaustion sets in. By this time, you're hopefully out of physical danger. You've either fought off and eliminated the stressor or you ran away from the stressor. Hence, the fight-or-flight syndrome.

Most often these days, instead of acute physical danger, you forced to deal with continual psychological and social stresses in your life. Chronically triggering the stress response alarm overburdens our resources, making us weak and vulnerable. Our bodies are prepared to fight-or-flight, but we never get that release. The more your body's stress system is activated, the easier it is to trip and the harder it is to shut off.

The effects of chronic stress are very serious and too often it goes undetected for a long time until symptoms appear. People are often forced to deal with a constant bombardment of stressors and think it's normal. Just deal with it or else you're a failure. It's sometimes difficult for people to clearly understand their situation and learn how to effectively cope and manage a negative stressor to minimize the effects on your limited physical and emotional resources.

Long-term exposure to stress can lead to serious health problems. Chronic stress disrupts nearly every system in your body. Stress depletes norepinephrine in the brain's limbic system, which regulates emotion. Long-term stress can even rewire the brain, leaving you more vulnerable to many psychological and physical issues.

Certain psychological factors that are almost guaranteed to trip your stress-alert system include loss of control, unpredictability, uncertainty, lack of outlets for venting frustration, lack of sources of support, and a perception that things are getting worse. To them, you can add worry, fear, anxiety, anger, hostility, guilt, insecurity and any number of negative thoughts. Saying that you are distressed can mean that you feel sad, powerless, hopeless, afraid, guilty, anxious, panic, discouraged, depressed.

How you perceive and interpret what's going on is the key to whether you cope with stress or are overtaken by it. Coping with stress is often about understanding your stress level and adjusting to change. Recognizing when you are stressed and managing your stress can greatly improve your life.

Stress management can teach you how identify and cope with stressors. It can also teach you how to change from the bad stress to the good type.


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