Stressed to Death

Yvette Tostado  |  Contributing Writer

Stress. No one can physically see it, but its presence can be felt. One can recognize people’s facial expressions and their body language as the result under stress. So what exactly is stress?

“Stress is a normal physical response to events that make you feel threatened or upset your balance in some way,” according to helpguide.org. “When you sense danger – whether it’s real or imagined – the body’s defenses kick into high gear in a rapid, automatic process known as the ‘fight-or-flight-or-freeze’ reaction, or the stress response.”

When it comes to stress, no one is alone in suffering. It’s common, especially among college students. According to ADA.org, 40 million U.S. adults suffer from a type of anxiety disorder and experience their first episode of it on average by the time they are 22.

Stress is not necessarily all bad, as it can actually help protect the body. Stress causes a reaction in the nervous system, which releases the stress hormones: adrenaline and cortisol. This causes the heart to beat fast, muscles to get tight, blood pressure to rise, breathing to get a little faster than normal and the senses to become more alert. Outwardly, the release of these hormones allows for an increase in strength and stamina as well as faster reaction time and improved focus.

Many people do not know how to respond to stress. Some will turn to food and binge even if they are not hungry. Some people will eat to feel some sort of comfort to get the stress out of their system, but most of the time this results in unwanted weight gain. Others will rely on the gym or anything involving exercise (the better alternative), causing the body to release endorphins. Some people take naps just to avoid the feeling of stress altogether. Stress can be beneficial as it can encourage someone to accomplish tasks more efficiently, but can be a disadvantage by causing the stress to be even more intense.

Stress can be detected in cognitive, emotional, physical and behavioral symptoms. Some of the warning signs or symptoms include memory problems, anxious or racing thoughts, constant worrying and moodiness.

Stress can cause irritation resulting in a short temper, the inability to relax and susceptibility to depression or loneliness. Physically, body aches may be experienced, as well as diarrhea, constipation, dizziness or nausea. Other physical symptoms may include chest pain, rapid heartbeat and frequent colds.

As far as behavior goes, stress may cause under-eating, overeating or irregular sleep patterns. The stressed person might exhibit small, nervous habits such as nail-biting or pacing. In addition to this information, helpguide.org also has available a stress test to indicate scores in terms of stress level.

Stress affects health in different ways, depending on stress level. The National Institute of Mental Health describes three different types of stress that can affect the human body both physically and mentally. NIMH cites “the pressures of work, family and other daily responsibilities” as common stress-inducers.

Another common source of stress is sudden negative change, such as losing a job, marriage problems or physical illness. Major disturbances may be classified as traumatic stress, experienced during a crisis such as a serious accident, war, assault or a natural disaster that has put one in imminent danger.

Stress can build up over time if it is not handled properly. In addition to taking simple steps to prevent a major breakdown and instead maintain a healthy lifestyle, NIMH recommends seeing a qualified health care provider if one is feeling overwhelmed or having suicidal thoughts. NIMH also suggests staying in touch with people who can provide any kind of support, whether it is through emotional support or simple availability.

Also, knowing the signs of the body’s response to stress (like having a hard time falling asleep, eating more than usual, consuming less than the usual, being easily angered and so forth) is important in combating it.

Exercise daily for at least 30 minutes by jogging, running or simply just walking. Doing so helps reduce stress and enhances one’s mood.

Talk to someone, exercise, prioritize tasks and do not dwell on a problem or unsolvable situation. If there is a solution, there is no reason to stress about it and if there is no solution, try not to stress about it anyway.

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