What is Stress? and the Effects of Stress

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Published on February 9, 2012
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What is Stress?

And the Effects of Stress



Our Stress Management Training uses the following information



The Health and Safety Executive has defined stress as:


‘the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures to the types of demand placed upon them. It arises when they worry that they can’t cope’.


Stress is rarely caused by an individual event and may have both work and personal causes.


When managing stress we should not be trying to eliminate it completely. We need a certain amount of stress in our lives in order to achieve our goals; we need a little bit of stress to even get out of bed in the mornings.

However, too much stress can led to physical or mental illness and place restrictions on the way we lead our lives.


Today, research tells us that 1 in 5 people suffer from stress.

Life itself and the pace of it can be stressful. In some people stress may not be related to specific work or life events but may have developed as an anxiety response to difficult situations.


We react to stress in a similar way that we react to fear. We experience fear when we have cause to be concerned about our well-being or safety. We experience stress when we are in situations where we feel under threat but are not actually in any immediate danger. Our heartbeat increases, our muscles tense to fight or flee our hands and feet become colder and we begin to sweat to cool ourselves.


This fight or flight syndrome is our instinctive reaction to danger. This response, however, can be set off by many situations, which are not really life threatening or dangerous.


Understanding Fight or Flight: The Evolution of Stress

Imagine you are a caveman (person) out innocently picking berries when suddenly you come nose to nose with a sabre-tooth tiger. While you were simply gathering, the tiger was actually hunting, and the sight of you makes his mouth water.

Luckily for you, millions of years of evolution have endowed you with a set of automatic weapons that take over in the event of an emergency. At the sight of the tiger, your hypothalamus sends a message to your adrenal glands and within seconds, you can run faster, hit harder, see better, hear more acutely, think faster, and jump higher than you could only seconds earlier.

Your heart is pumping at two to three times the normal speed, sending nutrient rich blood to the major muscles in your arms and legs. The tiny blood vessels (called capillaries) under the surface of your skin close down (which consequently sends your blood pressure soaring) so you can sustain a surface wound and not bleed to death. Even your eyes dilate so you can see well.

All functions of your body not needed for the struggle about to commence are shut down. Digestion stops, sexual function stops, even your immune system is temporarily turned off. If necessary, excess waste is eliminated to make you light on your feet.
Your suddenly supercharged body is designed to help level the odds between you and your attacker. Consequently, you narrowly escape death by leaping higher and running faster than you ever could before. With the danger now over, you find a safe place to lie down and rest your exhausted body.

FLASH FORWARD to the present day. Despite the huge amount of technological change in the ensuing 25,000 years, you are walking around with essentially the same set of internal body parts as that of the caveman. At this very moment you’re in the break room at work, hunting for coffee. Your boss is out hunting too. But guess what? He’s hunting for you.
As you gulp down your third cup of coffee you hear your boss say those dreaded words: “Could I see you for a moment in my office, please?” At the sight of the tiger, er, uh…your boss…your hypothalamus sends a message to your adrenal glands and within seconds your body summons all the same powers that your stone-age ancestor needed to fight a sabre tooth tiger.

You can almost feel your blood pressure soar as you take the long walk down the hall to your boss’s office. You remember a rumour you heard about an upcoming round of redundancies. Now your mind is racing, your heart is pumping, your blood pressure is soaring, your mouth dries up, your hands feel cold and clammy, your forehead is perspiring and you may even feel a sudden urge to go (to the loo). As you imagine your boss firing you, the caveman (person) inside of you wants to come out. Maybe you’d like to run and hide or maybe you’d like to punch your boss in the nose, but you can’t do either. Welcome to the modern era.

Our bodies are reacting as if our lives are actually threatened and this reaction to threat is a powerful one.

When there is no enemy to run from or fight with, the physical feelings created have no release, and so we begin to build up stress.

This stress will eventually find an outlet in chronic fatigue, anxiety and a variety of minor physical illnesses.


So, stress itself is not an illness but it can lead to ill health, if it is prolonged or intense.


The Effects of Stress


Stress affects us in many different ways.


Some people develop stress related illnesses, such as asthma, hypertension, ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome etc.


Some suffer from free-floating anxiety, panic attacks, muscular tension and hyperventilation.


Symptoms of stress whilst not dangerous can be uncomfortable. They can also be frightening particularly if someone does not realise they are suffering. When it becomes severe and goes on for a long time it can stop people doing what they want to do.


Sometimes it is possible to be suffering form stress and not even know it, particularly if people don’t think of themselves as a stressed person. People often mistake symptoms of stress for a physical illness.

It is really important to recognise whether stress is a problem for you.


Stress can affect us in at least four different ways:


  1. the way we feel
  2. the way our body works
  3. the way we think
  4. the way we behave


In order to check out whether you may be suffering from stress, place a tick next to those symptoms you experience regularly:


How you feel


       anxious, nervous, worried, frightened

       feeling something dreadful is going to happen

       tense, stressed, uptight, on edge, unsettled

       unreal, strange, woozy , detached



How you think


       constant worrying

       can’t concentrate

       thoughts racing

       mind jumping from one thing to another

       imagining the worst and dwelling on it


Common Thoughts:


       I’m losing control

       I’m cracking up

       I’m going to faint

       My legs are going to collapse

       I’m going to have a heart attack

       I’m going to make a fool of myself

       I cant cope

       I’ve got to get out


What happens to your body?


       Heart pounds, races, skips a beat

       Chest feels tight or painful

       Tingling or numbness in toes and fingers

       Stomach churning

       Having to go to the toilet

       Feeling jumpy and restless

       Tense muscles

       Body aching


       Breathing changes

       Dizzy , light headed


What you do:

       Pace up and down

       Start jobs and not finish them

       Can’t sit and relax

       On the go all of the time

       Talk quickly or more than usual

       Snappy and irritable behaviour

       Drinking more

       Smoking more

       Eat more (or less)

       Avoid feared situations


If you regularly experience some or all of these symptoms, then it is likely you are suffering from stress


So Stress Management Training from Absolutely Positive Training is what you need www.absolutelypositive.co.uk


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