Stress 101

Stress is a common human feeling that arises when demands are placed on us.

The Stress Response

The earliest humans experienced stress when there was a threat to their safety. When the brain detects a threat – real or perceived – it sends signals to different parts of the body to help us deal with it. For example, the brain signals the body to release the hormone adrenaline. That sharpens our senses, quickens our breathing, dilates blood vessels, increases heart rate, and tenses our muscles. This is part of the “fight or flight” response that prepares us to act quickly when faced with danger.

In today's society not all of the stress we feel has to do with real danger. Sometimes the stress response system kicks in when we are facing other sorts of challenges, such as talking to an angry friend, dealing with looming deadline at work or juggling too many tasks at once.

The Good Side of Stress

People often talk about stress as a negative thing. But a certain amount of stress is normal and useful. Our body’s stress response gives us the boost of energy that helps us compete in sports and games, do our best on an exam or deal with a demanding task. So we need a certain amount of stress to feel energized, alert, and engaged in life and its challenges.

Stressed Out!

Stress becomes a problem when we experience too much of it for too long or when we can’t recover from stress. Our bodies and brains were not designed to be in stress mode all the time. When our stress systems get overworked, we are at increased risk for various health and mental health problems.

But even before the more serious stress-related problems start, people usually experience certain symptoms:

  • feeling depressed, irritable, angry, anxious or overwhelmed
  • fatigue
  • lack of interest or motivation
  • difficulty concentrating
  • tension in the back and shoulders
  • trouble sleeping

If you are experiencing  some of the above symptoms, it may be a sign that stress is becoming a problem in your life. Stress Strategies offers a problem-solving approach that can help you make an action plan to manage your stress.

What’s the difference between stress and other bad feelings?

Stress does involve feelings: both physical feelings like tension or butterflies in the stomach and emotions like fear or anger. The difference is that when a stressful situation is over, our body returns to normal. Our heartbeat and breathing rate slow down, and our adrenal glands stop pumping out adrenaline. But the emotions and thoughts we experienced during the stress  often stay with us after the threat or challenge is over.

In truth, there is a lot of overlap between emotions and stress, so it’s hard to draw a line and say, this part of it is pure stress and this part is pure emotion. The important thing to understand is that sometimes our thoughts and feelings keep our stress response going longer than it needs to. It is even possible to create stress because of the way we are thinking about a situation. So learning to manage our emotions and change the way we think about stress can be an important strategy for reducing stress.

Learning to change the way you think about a stressor is one of the action strategies offered in Stress Strategies.


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