Stress is a term in psychology and biology, first coined in the 1930s, which has in more recent decades become a commonplace of popular parlance. It refers to the consequence of the failure of an organism – human or animal – to respond appropriately to emotional or physical threats, whether actual or imagined.
Stress symptoms commonly include a state of alarm and adrenaline production, short-term resistance as a coping mechanism, and exhaustion, as well as irritability, muscular tension, inability to concentrate and a variety of physiological reactions such as headache and elevated heart rate.[2
Impact on disease
Stress can significantly affect many of the body’s immune systems, as can an individual’s perceptions of, and reactions to, stress. The term psychoneuroimmunology is used to describe the interactions between the mental state, nervous and immune systems, as well as research on the interconnections of these systems. Immune system changes can create more vulnerability to infection, and have been observed to increase the potential for an outbreak of psoriasis for people with that skin disorder.
Chronic stress has also been shown to impair developmental growth in children by lowering the pituitary gland’s production of growth hormone, as in children associated with a home environment involving serious marital discord, alcoholism, or child abuse.
Studies of female monkeys at Wake Forest University (2009) discovered that individuals suffering from higher stress have higher levels of visceral fat in their bodies. This suggests a possible cause-and-effect link between the two, wherein stress promotes the accumulation of visceral fat, which in turn causes hormonal and metabolic changes that contribute to heart disease and other health problems.
Both negative and positive stressors can lead to stress. Some common categories and examples of stressors include: sensory input such as pain, bright light, or environmental issues such as a lack of control over environmental circumstances, such as food, housing, health, freedom, or mobility.
Social issues can also cause stress, such as struggles with conspecific or difficult individuals and social defeat, or relationship conflict, deception, or break ups, and major events such as birth and deaths, marriage, and divorce.
Life experiences such as poverty, unemployment, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, heavy drinking, or insufficient sleep can also cause stress. Students and workers may face stress from exams, project deadlines, and group projects.
Adverse experiences during development (e.g. prenatal exposure to maternal stress, poor attachment histories, sexual abuse are thought to contribute to deficits in the maturity of an individual’s stress response systems. One evaluation of the different stresses in people’s lives is the Holmes and Rahe stress scale
Techniques of stress management
There are several ways of coping with stress. Some techniques of time management may help a person to control stress. In the face of high demands, effective stress management involves learning to set limits and to say “No” to some demands that others make. The following techniques have been recently dubbed “Destressitizers” by The Journal of the Canadian Medical Association. A destressitizer is any process by which an individual can relieve stress. Techniques of stress management will vary according to the theoretical paradigm adhered to, but may include some of the following:
- Autogenic training
- Cognitive therapy
- Conflict resolution
- Getting a hobby
- Deep breathing
- Zen Yoga
- Relaxation techniques
- Artistic Expression
- Fractional relaxation
- Progressive relaxation
- Spending time in nature
- Stress balls
- Natural medicine
- Clinically validated alternative treatments
- Time management
- Listening to certain types of relaxing music, particularly:
- New Age music
- Classical music
- Psychedelic music