One of the key features of the modern day life is the multiplicity of deadlines, hassles, demands and frustrations. This has triggered an increase, in one of the most common conditions for many people, known as stress. Stress has become so commonplace for many people that it has evolved into a way of life.
Various definitions of stress have been advanced by varied scholars. However, there seems to be a general consensus as to the definitions that outline stress as the reaction of the body to variations that necessitate a response or adjustment (Ortega, 2000). In such instances, the body makes emotional, physical and mental responses as a response to the variations. It may also be defined as a normal physical stress of the body to events that make an individual feel upset, or threaten his or her balance in some way (Maxwell & Narag, 2006). In instances where an individual senses danger whether imaginary or real, the defense system of the body kick into high gear in a speedy and automatic process that is commonly referred to as stress response or fight-or-flight reaction (Maxwell & Narag, 2006).
Types of stress
There exist two categories of stress including acute or short-term stress and chronic or long term stress. Acute stress refers to the body’s immediate or instant response to a situation that is dangerous and demanding (Weiss, 2012). An individual’s level of stress depends on the intensity of stress, the duration of time in which it lasts, as well as how the individual copes with the situation. More often than not, the body recovers speedily from short-term stress. However, acute stress may result in a number of complications in cases where it happens one too many times or where the body does not have an opportunity to recover (Weissman, et al 1996). This is especially for individuals who have heart problems, where stress would trigger a heart attack or even an abnormal heartbeat (arrhythmia). On the other hand, chronic or long-term stress results from stressful events or situations that last over a long time. This may include dealing with a chronic or persistent disease or difficult job. In cases where an individual has a health problem, stress would worsen it (Weissman, et al 1996).
Positive effects of stress
As much as there is a general consensus as to the negative aspects that come with stress, it also comes with some positive or desirable effects. In instances where it comes in small doses, stress may help an individual to perform under pressure, as well as motivate him to perform to his level best. In fact, research has shown that stress responses help an individual to rise and meet challenges coming in his or her way (Nolen-Hoeksema et al, 1999). It is what keeps an individual on his toes during presentations at work. Scholars opine that it sharpens an individual’s concentration and focus in cases where he is attempting to surmount challenging activities. In some instances, it may even be responsible for pushing an individual to make the right or appropriate decision (Nolen-Hoeksema et al, 1999). For example, research has shown that students are driven to study for exams when stressed, rather than do other activities that may be more exciting than studying.
In addition, stress response has been seen as the body’s way of defending or protecting an individual. In cases where an individual is working properly, stress responses help him or her to concentrate or stay focused, alert and energetic (Weiss, 2012). In case of emergencies, stress can save an individual’s life by giving him or her extra strength to protect oneself. As stated, stress is the way through which the body responds to a certain demand (Albright et al, 2007). This may emanate from desirable or undesirable experiences. In instances where people are stressed by something that they are experiencing or going through, their bodies respond by releasing certain chemicals into the individual’s blood system (Tu, et al, 2005). These chemicals are said to enhance the strength and energy of individuals, which would come in handy especially in cases where individuals have to protect themselves from physical danger. This is what pushes an individual to slam on brakes so as to prevent an accident. (Albright et al, 2007)
Negative effects of stress
The negative effects of stress come as more pronounced or common. As much as the chemical released into an individual’s bloodstream are helpful in enhancing concentration, focus and alertness, the body and mind would pay a hefty price in cases where an individual is always running on emergency mode (Nolen-Hoeksema et al, 1999). In cases where the level of stress goes beyond a certain point, it ceases to be helpful and results in an extensive damage of an individual’s health, productivity, mood, relationship, as well as quality of life (Nolen-Hoeksema et al, 1999).
The negative effects of stress can be seen in the varied symptoms that an individual would exhibit including, a rapid heartbeat, fast breathing, back pain, stiff neck or tight shoulders, excessive sweating as well as sweaty palms. In addition, it may be seen in the form of gastrointestinal problems such as diarrhea, nausea and stomach upset (Thompson, & Kloos, 2009).
One of the most adverse effects of stress is on an individual’s immune system. Persistent or constant stress may increase the likelihood of getting sick. This is especially in cases where an individual has a chronic health condition such as AIDs (Weiss, 2012).
In addition, stress weighs heavily on the heart. Stress has always been linked to abnormal heartbeat, high blood pressure, the hardening of arteries (atherosclerosis), and blood clots (Thompson, & Kloos, 2009). In addition, it is linked to serious conditions such as heart failure, heart attack and coronary artery disease. Stress may lead to constant tension that results to shoulder, neck, and low back pain (Thompson, & Kloos, 2009).
Moreover, it has adverse effects on the gastrointestinal system. In cases where an individual has gastroesophageal reflux disease, irritable bowel syndrome or peptic ulcer disease, stress may worsen the symptoms. Moreover, stress affects the reproductive organs in a negative manner, resulting in erection problems, low fertility, painful menstrual periods, as well as complications during pregnancy (Thompson, & Kloos, 2009).
Causes of stress
There exist varied causes of stress ranging from physical things such as the fear of dangerous things, to emotional (such as the fear of being sacked or losing a job or one’s family) or psychological problems (Ortega, 2000). The identification of the things that may be resulting in stress is usually the initial step in identifying the appropriate way of dealing with stress. Some of the most common risk factors or causes of stress include the following (Rohleder et al, 2004).
Internal stress – this is a situation where an individual makes himself stressed. An individual be worrying for no reason at all or about things that he or she cannot do control. An individual would be worried about things that he or she cannot manage or control, or even put himself in situations that he knows will cause him stress. Some individuals are addicted to a tense and hurried lifestyle that comes as a result of being stressed (Rohleder et al, 2004). They end up looking for stressful situations and are stressed about things that should not be stressful.
Survival stress – this is what is commonly known as flight or fight stress. It is a common response or reaction to danger in all animals and people (Breslau et al 1997). In cases where an individual is afraid that something may physically hurt him or her, the body responds by releasing a burst of energy so as to enhance his ability to survive the hazardous situation (fight), or even run away from it altogether (flight). This is known as survival stress (Breslau et al 1997).
Environmental stress, on the other hand, refers to an individual’s response to the things around him that may cause stress. These may include noise, pressure from family and work, noise or crowding (Young, & Korszun, 1999). Frustrations may also cause stress as they are states of dissatisfaction or insecurity that emanate from unfulfilled needs or unresolved problems. Conflicts may also cause stress in cases where the needs and demands are incompatible. For example, an individual may be torn between spending time with the family and working late to earn a living for the family (Young, & Korszun, 1999).
Fatigue and overwork may also cause stress. This category of stress builds up over a certain period and may weigh heavily on the person. This may result from working too much or even carrying out duties that are too difficult at home or in the workplace. It may also result from the inability to manage his time, or even relax and rest. This may be arguably the hardest category of stress to avoid, especially considering that many people think that it is out of their control (Young, & Korszun, 1999).
Gender Differences in stress levels
Studies have shown that women are twice as likely to develop stress and depression as men, irrespective of their nationality, ethnicity and culture (Gifford, 2005). Diagnosable stress and depressive disorders are unusually common in women, who incorporate lifetime prevalence for primary depressive disorders of 21.3% as compared to 12.7% for men. It is worth noting, however, that no variable can single-handedly account for variations in depression across genders (Gifford, 2005). Nevertheless, two reasons are mainly isolated as the main contributors of the disparity. First, it is acknowledged that women enjoy less status and power than men in quite a large number of societies, in which case they undergo certain traumas more often than men (Zahn-Waxler, 2000). In addition, they undergo increased chronic strains such as lack of respect, harassment, constrained choices and poverty than men. Second, even in cases where men and women undergo similar stressors, there are variations in their biological responses to stressors, coping styles and self concepts, in which case women stand higher chances of becoming stressed than men (Zahn-Waxler, 2000).
Varied systems have been used in measuring stress. These include psychological questionnaires, physiological measures, and autonomic measures. In physiological measures, research shows that the interpretation of an event or situation as stressful triggers the activation of HPA (hypothalamic pituitary adrenal) axis, which ultimately leads to the secretion of catecholamines and cortisol in human beings (Nolen-Hoeksema, 1995). In essence, cortisol and catecholamines, which are the end products of the HPA activation, may be measured in saliva, urine and blood. Autonomic measures include blood pressure, vagal tone and salivary alpha-amylase (Nolen-Hoeksema, 1995).
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