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Updated 24 November 2015

What is stress?

Stress is so common, we often mistake it for anxiety, fears or being exhausted. Here are the signs, symptoms and phases of stress.

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Stress is your body's way of reacting to certain triggers or changes in your life.

Anything that poses a threat to your wellbeing has the potential to trigger stress. A certain amount of stress is actually good for you as it gets you going and can be a form of motivation.

However, when your stress levels are too high or stays high over a longer period of time, it can have a detrimental effect on both your physical and mental health.

Stressors versus experiencing stress

Stressors are specific events as well as changes in your daily environment that cause you to experience stress. Stressors can be positive or negative e.g. illness, death, divorce, hijacking, a new job, examinations, a new house, a new marriage, a new baby even a first date. 

Daily challenges (e.g. work deadlines, disagreements between individuals, unpleasant noises, congested traffic, office or personal relationship difficulties) can also cause you to experience stress and require adaptation to the changes or challenges in your life.

Stress is felt or experienced when the pressures, challenges, or demands in life exceed your coping abilities. Generally the more stressors you experience, the more stressed you feel. Stress can also manifest in physical, emotional, or behavioural symptoms.

Phases of the stress experience

There are three basic phases of the stress experience. Understanding these phases can help you to identify and cope positively with the stress in your life.
Stress begins in the brain and affects the brain, as well as the rest of the body.

Acute stress responses promote adaptation and survival via the nervous, cardiovascular, autonomic, immune and metabolic hormones, processes and systems.

Phase I  - "fight or flight"


Stressors trigger your body's response to stress. This physiological response is also known as the "fight or flight" reaction in your nervous system. Symptoms of the fight or flight reaction include:

- Increased blood pressure

- Rapid breathing

- Slowing digestive system

- Increased heart rate

- Higher blood pressure

- Muscles tense

- Immune function decreases

- Inability to sleep/heightened alertness

The flight or fight stress response is meant to be temporary to improve your chances of surviving a short-term stressor such as a crisis or physical threat to your safety (i.e. out running an attacker or predator).

Once the stressor is removed or passes, the body’s hormones, systems and processes revert to normal functioning. However if this stress response is activated repeatedly or for prolonged periods of time it can have detrimental affect on your health.

Phase II

Your interpretation of the stressor affects how you feel as well as your ability to cope. Beliefs, attitudes, values as well as learned coping skills determine how you interpret and react to potentially stressful situations.

If you tend to see situations as threats, pressures, demands, or catastrophes, it can compromise your ability to cope effectively and result in a reduced ability to focus or concentrate.

Everyone responds or copes with their stress differently. Responding to repeated stressors can create or worsen physical, emotional, or behavioural effects if the fight or flight reaction is activated repeatedly over time.

Physical effects — fatigue, nausea, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, ulcers, rashes, tension headaches, migraine, irritable bowel.

- Emotional effects — Out-bursts, feeling anxious, anger, forgetfulness, tearfulness panic attacks, helplessness, despair.

- Behavioural effects — Poor sleep, poor food choices, unhealthy eating habits, overeating, poor appetite, smoking, excessive alcohol use, reduced or no regular exercise, overspending, drug abuse, social withdrawal.

Phase III

The repeated response of the stress system together with the physical, emotional, or behavioural effects can lead to various disorders and lifestyle diseases including:

- Heart disease

- Obesity

- Anxiety

- Depression

- Infertility

- Autoimmune diseases

- Allergic disorders

Managing your stress in a healthy way including healthy eating habits, regular exercise and adequate rest is essential to help prevent the various disorders and lifestyle diseases that are associated with prolonged stress.

There are also effective nutrients including activated B complex vitamins and Adaptogenic herbal extracts that can help you adapt and cope better with your particular stress .

 
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