In this modern and fast-paced world we live in, stress is a phenomenon that affects all of us. Not all stress is bad; in fact, it is a normal response to events that occur in our lives. However, certain types of stress do result in negative impacts on our bodies and mind e.g. too much stress over a prolonged period of time. Why are these types of stress so harmful to our health and how can we better manage it?
What is Stress?
Emotional Aspect of Stress
Stress is a highly subjective phenomenon but is generally defined as “a feeling that people have when they are overloaded and struggling to cope with demands” (Medical News Today, American Institute of Stress). The stress level that people experience from the same event varies because it is a subjective emotion after all, and people have differing thresholds and boundaries.
Physical Aspect of Stress
There is a physical component to stress as well. Stress triggers the fight or flight response innate in humans; when exposed to stressors, our bodies produce “larger quantities of the chemicals cortisol, adrenaline, and norepinephrine”, which leads to increased heart rate, sweating, etc. (Medical News Today). Stress has proved to be necessary for survival because this fight or flight response allows us to respond in time towards threats.
Types of Stress
1. Acute Stress
Acute stress is the most common type of stress that is experienced and is our body’s short-term response to a new event or challenge e.g. worrying over an upcoming deadline. Such stress does not necessarily negatively impact our bodies and might actually be healthy (Healthline).
2. Episodic Acute Stress
Episodic acute stress refers to frequent bouts of acute stress, and people who experience this are more exposed to negative health effects (Medical News Today).
3. Chronic Stress
Chronic stress refers to unresolved stress experienced over a prolonged period of time and can be due to circumstances like chronic poverty, a dysfunctional family, or an unsatisfactory marriage (Healthline). This type of stress results in the most negative health effects because constant exposure to stress gradually wears down the bodily systems.
How Stress affects our Physical Health
Stress causes changes to the body in many ways, and consequences differ depending on the type of stress that is experienced. Here are some impacts that stress can cause.
When one is under stress, the body’s respiratory and cardiovascular system works harder in order to supply oxygen-rich blood to the body, which also raises blood pressure. Over time, frequent or chronic stress leads to an overworked heart, which increases the risks of having a stroke or heart attack (Healthline).
In times of stress, the liver also produces extra glucose for more energy, which could increase the risk of having Type 2 diabetes in the long run. Stress also weakens the body’s immune system over time, increasing the vulnerability of the body to viral illnesses (Healthline).
How Stress affects our Mental Health
Due to the emotional reactions that occur because of stress, prolonged exposure to unresolved stress also has an impact on mental health. Some common emotional reactions to stress include anxiety, anger, burnout, irritability, etc. (Medical News Today). Such recurring emotions can have a profound impact on our mental health especially if we are not able to find a sustainable way of expressing and managing stress.