Generally the word stress has a negative connotation, people often use this term to refer to a state of fatigue and lack of concentration. However, it is much more complex because it is actually a medical term that defines homeostatic imbalance . It is an unconscious and automatic reaction to any kind of pressure or danger.
From a medical point of view, it is a natural process that is used to adapt to any circumstance, for which a complex mechanism is activated over a long period of time that tries to balance body functions. However, it requires a greater amount of effort to achieve this, so people could face negative effects on both their physical and mental health.
What is stress?
Stress is defined as a type of physiological reaction that has a psychological origin. It is a defense mechanism that has the purpose of helping to face threatening situations or that demand a greater effort. The body is highly sensitive to any external factor or stimulus that can generate stress, in each individual these causes are different.
Another way to understand how this defense mechanism works is by understanding that it is an unconscious response to a particular challenge . This means that the sympathetic nervous system is activated automatically, the peculiarity is that some people could fight or instead try to flee. The answer is variable because it depends on other factors such as previous experiences or the ability to tolerate high levels of anxiety.
It is considered to be a condition that notably weakens the physical and mental health of those who suffer from it , especially when it lasts for long periods of time. Specifically, the body’s parasympathetic system struggles to bring the body back to normal conditions, which is called homeostasis. However, some consider that high levels of stress can be considered as something positive because it keeps people active and alert, they are called by the term eustress. On the other hand, when they have a negative impact, it is called distress.
The first time this condition was mentioned was during the 1930s. The Austrian-born physician Hans Selye conducted a series of investigations that resulted in the majority of patients showing common symptoms; after suffering a prolonged illness. Regardless of the condition they suffered from, people showed negative effects such as fatigue, asthenia, loss of appetite and even anxiety. At first he referred to this complex clinical picture as ” being sick syndrome .”
Later in the middle of the century, research on this issue would continue to be carried out, finally the term “stress” was used for the first time from a publication dating from 1950. This word has scientific origin, specifically physics, it refers to to the reaction of bodies to pressure, which is known as material fatigue . When a greater amount of pressure is received it can finally be destroyed.
What are their characteristics?
Stress characteristics are mainly associated with psychophysiological changes. This means that the affected person will have to experience symptoms that will cause limitations in their capacities and habitual performance. Considering that stress generates a considerable increase in energy expenditure, consequently it is very likely that there are motor and thinking deficiencies. The main features are described below:
- There are profound changes in emotional balance . Consequently, patients have higher levels of anxiety, confusion, and fear that have not previously been experienced.
- Mental abilities are negatively affected . For this reason, the difficulty to think is manifested by repetitive thoughts, difficulty in concentrating, poor memory, increased self-critical thoughts and excessive worry.
- The behavior and even the personality of the patient change drastically. They begin to adopt attitudes that were not previously present such as talking too much, increased alcohol consumption, exaggerated gestures or avoiding eye contact for example.
- Physical changes occur that show the intensity of the stress you want to be undergoing. For example, muscles remain contracted, headaches, upset stomach, palpitations, shaking of breath and fatigue increase.
Types of stress
Mainly mention is made of two types of stress, one is described as a more positive process compared to the other. The eustress is a necessary process for situational adaptation , humans use it to solve any kind of complex situation. In this way, the proper balance between mental capacities and physical capacities is maintained to solve these situations. Its existence is evidenced when we react defensively to threatening stimuli.
The distress is a negative process that creates an imbalance in the body , affecting the potential of homeostasis. Therefore, it is common for people who suffer from it to experience fatigue, anxiety and changes in behavior and personality such as irritability. With this, the physical consequences also appear, mainly due to the considerable increase in energy expenditure. Most likely, it is necessary to act more quickly without there being a moment of rest, promoting exhaustion.
Under another criterion, stress can also be classified in two ways: acute stress and chronic stress. Acute stress is characterized by having a shorter durability, it is generated from situations that are generally solved quickly. It also occurs when emotions of great intensity are experienced.
Chronic stress has a longer durability, it will eventually cause health problems that are much more difficult to solve. It is usually a reaction to problems as important as an unexpected death or financial problems. People who suffer from this type of stress tend to get used to and do not realize this problem.
What are your symptoms?
Stress brings together a wide set of psychophysiological symptoms . It is also known as the General Adjustment Syndrome. The most characteristic are the unspecific and unexpected responses, which reflect the increase in energy demand to which the patient will be subjected. For this reason, in each individual symptoms and reactions as diverse as trying to defend or escape are observed.
The most common symptoms of stress are described below, they are classified into two categories which are: pathophysiology and psychological reactions. This means that it is a condition that generates multiple unforeseen and uncontrollable reactions, which is why stress manifests itself in different ways in each person. These are the main symptoms:
Pathophysiological symptoms are usually experienced when stress is deeper and more intense. They are as follows:
- The sympathetic nervous system begins to work at an unusual rate with which symptoms such as tachycardia, vasoconstriction, decreased intestinal mobility, loss of skin pigmentation and even hair loss appear .
- Significantly increases the release of glucocorticoids into the bloodstream. Understanding it differently, there is a higher concentration of adrenaline and norepinephrine as well as cortisol.
- Blood glucose levels rise. That this is a situation that affects clotting as well as increasing the risk of suffering a stroke. Other associated conditions are thrombosis and the involvement of immune processes.
- People are kept in a permanent state of alert , these are mechanisms developed in order to increase the chances of survival. These can only provide some peace of mind for a short time.
- The body faces the wear and tear of its energy reserves in the medium and long term. This is a consequence of alertness causing immunosuppression and an increase in the release of hormones for example.
- People begin to experience body changes that had not occurred before. This is the case with increased sweating and changes in body weight .
The psychological reactions associated with the three have three main components which are: emotional, cognitive and behavioral. Up next, each of the preview are described:
- Emotional reactions alter the state of mind and they correspond to the stimulus by which they have been aroused. This means that the patient may feel more vulnerable psychologically, which makes him more prone to appear depressed or anxious as a result.
- Irritability is a common factor in patients who are treated for stress. Emotional instability manifests itself in multiple ways, depending on the intensity of the reaction to the cause of this state. It also depends on the amount of time in which it lasts.
- The apathy, indifference and dejection are other reactions that significantly affect the performance and autonomy of the patient. With this, negative and intrusive thoughts begin to be created, which make it difficult for the patient to integrate into their daily life and activities.
- Difficulty concentrating is accompanied by the inability to feel pleasure or satisfaction, and even joy. Even when the patient tries to carry out activities that generally generate these experiences, his system is not capable of letting him feel these emotions and sensations.
What are your causes?
The causes for which stress is generated are so diverse as well as its functionality. In other words, for most experts it is a reaction that allows us to face important situations. It is a response mechanism that begins with a first activation phase, which helps the person to prepare for a particular stimulus .
For a certain period of time this state of tension and greater activity is maintained, which will only decrease once there is a resolution. This is precisely where its usefulness lies, people can adapt to circumstances and can meet the demands and needs required. All the reactions that are elicited will eventually speed up the process of finding a solution.
The current pace of life allows people to experience periods of considerable stress. Unfortunately, the negative part of this mechanism leaves important repercussions on the health of patients. From social conflicts, economic problems , emotional deficiencies, labor conflicts and other similar situations; in common they are usually the cause of stress.
However, the downside to stress is that it causes detrimental health effects once energy and resource levels are exceeded . Therefore, it should always be objectively evaluated if the sensations and changes experienced, from a stressful situation, are affecting health.
Tips and / or habits to reduce stress
To combat stress, several alternatives can be used that can provide results shortly after being put into practice. Generally, it begins with exercises to encourage relaxation and maintain better control of breathing . By exercising voluntary control, a state of calm is promoted; which is positive in situations of extreme stress. Here are some healthy tips and habits:
- Physical exercises often provide both physical and psychological benefits. In addition, there is scientific evidence showing that exercise promotes the release of so-called ” happiness hormones .”
- Recreational activities are always a good option to clear your mind and spend time socializing. Sometimes stress is generated from work overload and pressures that generate an increase in brain activity. Consequently, the practice of activities such as dancing, watching a movie, playing games or talking; promote a state of calm.
- Healthy habits how to maintain a balanced diet as well as learn to avoid situations that cause stress; these are just some initial tips. The important thing is that people learn to take care of themselves.
- Plan daily activities as a family and at work. Order helps people maintain a more relaxed pace of life. That is, stress can also be generated from responsibilities that are assigned by force, people must learn to be honest about their abilities and interests.
- Maintain greater contact with nature, as well as with family or friends; because it promotes a more balanced state of mind. We must seek to have contact with an environment in which we feel comfortable.
Alexa Clark specializes in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. She has experience in listening and welcoming in Individual Therapy and Couples Therapy. It meets demands such as generalized anxiety, professional, love and family conflicts, stress, depression, sexual dysfunction, grief, and adolescents from 15 years of age. Over the years, She felt the need to conduct the psychotherapy sessions with subtlety since She understands that the psychologist acts as a facilitator of self-understanding and self-acceptance, valuing each person's respect, uniqueness, and acceptance.