Stress and Your Health

What is Stress?

Stress is the psychological and physiological response of the body, such as increased alertness, heart rate, breathing rate, muscle tension, and immune system response that occurs whenever we must adapt to changing conditions, whether these conditions be real or perceived.

1 in 5 Americans report extreme stress symptoms (i.e. shaking, heart palpitations, depression), but nearly half (44 percent) say they are not doing enough or are not sure they are doing enough to manage their stress.

What Causes Stress?

Stress can be caused by many events and situations.  Within this canopy of stress, there are two categories: eustress and distress.

Eustress is classified as moderate or normal stress that is beneficial to the experiencer, fueling their successes and achievements.  Examples of eustress may be having a birthday, getting married, or traveling.

Distress on the other hand, is stress that causes the experiencer great anxiety, sorrow, or pain.  For example, getting a flat tire, having a serious illness or health condition, and losing your keys, could result in distress.

Health Implications

Chronic stress has a profound impact on all major body systems and is associated with a greater risk for several chronic conditions, such as depression, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and autoimmune diseases.

People who don’t manage their stress well are more likely to rely on unhealthy or sedentary behaviors such as napping, eating, and drinking alcohol to relieve stress. The mismanagement of stress can have negative health implications, such as unwanted weight gain, poor sleep hygiene, and long-term psychological issues (e.g., depression).

Managing Stress – is it possible?

Stress is a necessary and unavoidable part of life.  Having some stress is normal and healthy – it helps us to be motivated, productive, and challenged. When stress is prolonged and sustained it can have an impact on daily functioning- decreased attention, flexibility, memory, and energy, and overall immune function.

Distress on the other hand, is stress that causes the experiencer great anxiety, sorrow, or pain.  For example, getting a flat tire, having a serious illness or health condition, and losing your keys, could result in distress.

Next step

The first step in learning how to cope with stressors is to learn how you respond to stress.  Use the next section to understand how you feel stress, and think about your most common sources of stress.

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