Everyone experiences stress and anxiety at some point in their life. The difference between the two, is that stress is a response to a threat in a situation and Anxiety is a reaction to the stress.
No matter the circumstance, most people say that stress interferes to some extent with their lives. Chronic stress can affect your health, causing symptoms from headaches, chest pain and high blood pressure, to heart palpitations, skin rashes, and loss of sleep.
What is stress?
Stress can be defined as the body’s response to any demand. Many things can trigger this response, including life changes and transitions. Changes can be positive or negative. They may be recurring, short-term, or long-term and may include things like commuting to and from school or work every day, adjusting to a blended family, or moving to a new home. Some stress inducing events can be mild and relatively harmless, such as participating in competitions, watching a scary movie, or meeting deadlines. Other stressful events are major, such as marriage or divorce, serious illness, or the birth of a baby. Other events can be extreme, such as exposure to a violent incident, and can lead to traumatic stress reactions.
How does stress affect the body?
Not all stress is bad. All animals and people have a stress response, which can be life-saving in some situations. The neurotransmitters and hormones released during such stressful times, prepares the animal or person to fight a threat or flee to safety. When you face a dangerous situation, your pulse speeds up, you breathe faster, your muscles tense, your brain uses more oxygen and increases activity. These are all functions aimed at survival. In the short term, it can even boost the immune system.
However, with chronic stress, those same neurotransmitters that are life-saving in short bursts can suppress functions that aren’t needed for immediate survival. Your immunity is lowered and other systems such as your digestion stop working normally. Once the threat has passed, other body systems act to restore normal functioning. Problems occur if the stress response goes on too long, such as when the source of stress is chronic or if the response continues after the danger has subsided.
What are the different kinds of stress?
There are at least three different types of stress, all of which carry physical and mental health risks:
- Routine stress related to the pressures of work, family and other daily responsibilities.
- Stress brought about by a sudden negative change, such as losing a job, or having a serious or chronic illness.
- Traumatic stress, experienced in an event like a major accident, natural disaster, or an assault, where one may be seriously hurt or in danger of being killed.
The body responds to each type of stress in similar ways. Different people may feel it differently. For example, some people experience mainly digestive symptoms, while others may have headaches, sleeplessness, depressed mood, or anger and irritability. People under chronic stress are prone to more frequent and severe viral infections, such as the flu or common cold.
Of all the types of stress, changes in health from routine stress may be hardest to notice at first. Because the source of stress tends to be more persistent than in cases of acute or traumatic stress, the body gets no clear signal to return to normal functioning. Over time, continued strain on your body from routine stress may lead to serious health problems, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, depression, anxiety disorders, and other illnesses. But you can learn how to reduce the impact of stress and manage your symptoms. See my article on effective ways to relieve stress.
If you need help with Stress Management Orange County please call Nancy Caltagirone, MFT at 714-241-8400