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What is Stress?What are Stressors? - Common Symptoms of StressManaging Stress - Conclusion -   Informational Links

What is Stress?

Stress is defined as "the nonspecific response of the body to any demand made upon it." The human body strives to maintain appropriate functioning at all times, a notion called homeostasis. Demands, often called "stressful events" have the effect of changing the balances our body tries to keep functioning a particular way. This is also known as the "stress response." The stress response is a series of hormones released from the brain in order to help us overcome the stressful event. These hormones affect the body, raising our blood pressure, changing blood flow to major muscle groups and the brain, slowing down digestive functions, and other things in preparation for us to overcome the stressful event. In earlier days, most times stressful events were physical threats to our body (think: sabre tooth tiger and the "fight or flight response"). Our bodies then try to get the bodies systems back in balance. Our bodies are continuously adapting to the environment that surrounds us.

In modern times, stressful events have taken a much different look. Although things like traffic, overcrowding, bills, arguments, and other things we perceive as "stressful" are much different than centuries ago, our bodies "stress response" hasn't changed.

What are Stressors?

Stressors are the events or situations that cause stress. Being unprepared to give a presentation at work is an example of a stressor. The situation of being unprepared could make a person develop stress. There are two types of stressors:

  • External Stressors
    • physical environment
    • social interaction with people
    • life events which you have no control over (death in the family)
  • Internal Stressors
    • personal lifestyle choice
    • personality traits
    • individual thought process (negativity, over-analyzing, etc.)

Stressors surround our daily existence and how you manage stress relates to your physical and mental health. Discovering what events in your life are stressful is an important first step in managing stress.


Common Physical Symptoms of Stress

Short Term Long Term
-faster heart beat -change in appetite
-increased sweating -frequent colds
-cool skin -asthma
-cold hands and feet -digestive problems
-feelings of nausea -headaches
-rapid breathing -skin eruptions
-tense muscles -sexual disorders
-dry mouth -aches and pains
-diarrhea -tiredness
-irritability -heart disease
-anxiety -seizures

Stress affects the body in a variety of ways. For example, stress can reduce enjoyment of an occasion, can cause mood changes, and can cause severe health problems. Over time, stress is related to several chronic medical conditions such as high blood pressure, migraine headaches, and a variety of other medical conditions. Stress can increase the risk of heart disease, hypertension, and even cancer. The good news is that the long-term effects of stress can be halted if a person effectively manages the events and responses to stress.

FACT: Stress is one of the leading causes of anxiety disorders, which affect over 20 million Americans.

Are you suffering from an anxiety disorder?

  • Do you feel like you are constantly under a lot of pressure?
  • Do you feel as if you have no control over your situation?
  • Do you have problems falling asleep at night?
  • Are you unable to relax or "wind down" after a busy day?
  • When you think of words to describe yourself, do cautious, high strung, depressed moody or tense come to mind?

FACT: 10 million Americans see a psychiatrist for stress related issues each year


Managing Stress

There are numerous ways to reduce stress in your life; the correct answer is finding what works for you. Research has shown that cognitive-behavioral therapy can be effective in reducing stress. Not only do you learn to react differently to specific stress related activities, you learn to understand how your thinking pattern contributed to the stress and how to alter your thought process.

A few suggestions...

  • take time out for self
  • focus on personal strengths
  • know your limitations
  • let go of those things you cannot change
  • change the way you look at things
  • talk about the situation causing stress

Breathing and relaxation exercises are key to reducing negative stress. One form of this is yoga. Yoga is a form of meditation with one's self that consist of stretching exercises and deep breathing techniques. Over 6 million Americans have tried Yoga as a form of relaxation. Exercise is extremely important in reducing the affects of stress on the body. It enables the body to cope with stress more effectively. An overall approach to improving every day life has proven to be the most effective method to managing stress.

Humor is another way of dealing with stress. Having the ability to find humor in a stressful situation and being able to laugh about it, releases all the tension that is building inside. Even if the situation cannot be made light of, think of something else that will make you laugh.

Healthy lifestyle changes could also reduce the level of stress that a person may experience. A few suggestions include reducing caffeine intake, making new friends, finding time for sleep, and eating healthy. Healthy lifestyle changes help manage stress as well as your overall being.

Contacting your physician is another avenue to consider. More and more health insurance companies are now covering alternative medicine, such as acupuncture and stress reduction programs for their subscribers.



It is vital that stress management techniques are implemented into our daily lives. As mentioned earlier, some stress is good, but we need to find that optimal level of stress, which will motivate but not overwhelm us. Coping with stress is an individualized task and one method over another may not be superior, so find what works for you and master it. A person that is stressed takes so much away from his or her health and performance levels. Reducing stress could be as simple has adding exercise to you day or making new friends. To make the most of your life, limit your stress and of course for that stress that you cannot diminish, learn to manage it.

Take a walk, go dancing, stretch, take deep breathes, laugh, play a game, see a movie, express affection, share feelings, sing, paint, write, make new friends, tackle problems head on, give thanks, let go, and laugh some more...


Informational Links



  1. Lehrer, Paul M. & Woolfolk, Robert L. Principles and Practice of Stress Management. The Guilford Press, New York, 1993.
  2. Long, MD Phillip W. Internet Mental Health. www.mentalhealth.com.
  3. Davis, Martha, McKay, Matthew, & Eshelman, Elizabeth. The Relaxation and Stress Workbook. (2000). New Harbinger Publishers.
  4. National Institute of Mental Health. Anxiety Disorders. www.nimh.nih.gov.
  5. Posen, MD David B. The Canadian Journal of Continuing Medical Education. April, 1995.

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Page last modified Sept. 29, 2005