What is stress?  

Stress affects everyone differently. It is dependent on the environment you are exposed to, your experiences in life and your genetic makeup, making it a subjective condition. It is your body’s response to a certain situation. Something that is stressful for one person, may not be stressful for another. Still, it is very real for the person experiencing it.

Stress is defined as the mental state or emotional tension and strain resulting from a circumstance that is demanding or adverse. Stress can put strain on your physical and mental health and may result in your overall behaviour changing as a result. 

Your body has a biological response to stressful situations, releasing chemical hormones (Adrenaline, Cortisol and Norepinephrine) that help it to deal with the situation at hand.  

Stress is the body’s psychological reaction to something that is perceived harmful to us. This is known as the flight-or-fight response (a term coined by Walter Bradford Cannon). This response, also called hyperarousal, is a psychological reaction in response to a seemingly harmful event or a threat to our survival. 

From as early as the cavemen era, stress has been a natural response to certain situations. It results in the heart beating faster, the brain working better and improvement in focus. It also results in a sudden burst of energy which enable one to either fight or flee in order to remain safe and alive.  This response often kept our early ancestors safe from attacks from predators and other threats to their survival.

This is a good type of stress, one which resulted in the survival of humankind. This kind of stress is intended to only be temporary, and in modern life helps us to avoid accidents, meet deadlines and manage chaotic situations. However, when stress moves from being acute (fight-or-flight) to chronic (prolonged acute stress) it can take a psychological and often physical toll on the body.  

Stress is an unavoidable part of our everyday life but prolonged stress can be detrimental to our health and many don't realise that it can be the root of illness.

And so, the management and prevention of it is vital to continued health and well-being. It is difficult to completely eliminate stress from our lives, but it is possible to learn to eliminate unnecessary stress.  

NEXT What happens to our bodies during a stressful event?

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