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What Is Stress?

Stress is your body's way of responding to any kind of demand. It can be caused by both good and bad experiences. When people feel stressed by something going on around them, their bodies react by releasing chemicals into the blood. These chemicals give people more energy and strength, which can be a good thing if their stress is caused by physical danger. But this can also be a bad thing, if their stress is in response to something emotional and there is no outlet for this extra energy and strength. This class will discuss different causes of stress, how stress affects you, the difference between 'good' or 'positive' stress and 'bad' or 'negative' stress, and some common facts about how stress affects people today.

What Causes Stress?


Many different things can cause stress -- from physical (such as fear of something dangerous) to emotional (such as worry over your family or job.) Identifying what may be causing you stress is often the first step in learning how to better deal with your stress. Some of the most common sources of stress are: Survival Stress - You may have heard the phrase "fight or flight" before. This is a common response to danger in all people and animals. When you are afraid that someone or something may physically hurt you, your body naturally responds with a burst of energy so that you will be better able to survive the dangerous situation (fight) or escape it all together (flight). This is survival stress. Internal Stress - Have you ever caught yourself worrying about things you can do nothing about or worrying for no reason at all? This is internal stress and it is one of the most important kinds of stress to understand and manage. Internal stress is when people make themselves stressed. This often happens when we worry about things we can't control or put ourselves in situations we know will cause us stress. Some people become addicted to the kind of hurried, tense, lifestyle that results from being under stress. They even look for stressful situations and feel stress about things that aren't stressful. Environmental Stress - This is a response to things around you that cause stress, such as noise, crowding, and pressure from work or family. Identifying these environmental stresses and learning to avoid them or deal with them will help lower your stress level. Fatigue and Overwork - This kind of stress builds up over a long time and can take a hard toll on your body. It can be caused by working too much or too hard at your job(s), school, or home. It can also be caused by not knowing how to manage your time well or how to take time out for rest and relaxation. This can be one of the hardest kinds of stress to avoid because many people feel this is out of their control. Later in this course we will show you that you DO have options and offer some useful tips for dealing with fatigue.

How Does Stress Affect You?

Stress can affect both your body and your mind. People under large amounts of stress can become tired, sick, and unable to concentrate or think clearly. Sometimes, they even suffer mental breakdowns. Next: Good Stress Versus
http://www.mtstcil.org/skills/stress-definition-1.html

Description
An in-depth report on the causes, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of stress.

Introduction:
Stress affects most people in some way. Acute (sudden, short-term) stress leads to rapid changes throughout the body. Almost all body systems (the heart and blood vessels, the immune system, the lungs, the digestive system, the sensory organs, and brain) gear up to meet perceived danger. These stresses could prove beneficial in a critical, life-or-death situation. Over time, however, repeated stressful situations put a strain on the body that may contribute to physical and psychological problems. Chronic (long-term) stress can have real health consequences and should be addressed like any other health concern. Fortunately, research is showing that lifestyle changes and stress-reduction techniques can help people learn to manage their stress.

External and Internal Stressors


People can experience stress from external or internal factors.

External stressors include adverse physical conditions (such as pain or hot or cold temperatures) or stressful psychological environments (such as poor working conditions or abusive relationships). Internal stressors can also be physical (infections and other illnesses, inflammation) or psychological (such as intense worry about a harmful event that may or may not occur). As far as anyone can tell, internal psychological stressors are rare or absent in most animals except humans.

Acute or Chronic Stress


Stressors can also be defined as short-term (acute) or long-term (chronic). Acute Stress. Acute stress is the reaction to an immediate threat, commonly known as the fight or flight response. The threat can be any situation that is perceived, even subconsciously or falsely, as a danger.

Common acute stressors include:


Noise (which can trigger a stress response even during sleep) Crowding Isolation Hunger Danger Infection High technology effects (playing video games, frequently ringing mobile phones) Imagining a threat or remembering a dangerous event

Under most circumstances, once the acute threat has passed, levels of stress hormones return to normal. This is called the relaxation response. Chronic Stress. Frequently, modern life poses ongoing stressful situations that are not shortlived. The urge to act (to fight or flee) must therefore be controlled. Stress, then, becomes chronic. Common chronic stressors include:

Ongoing highly pressured work Long-term relationship problems Loneliness Persistent financial worries

Resources

www.nimh.nih.gov -- National Institute of Mental Health www.nami.org -- National Alliance for the Mentally Ill www.nmha.org -- National Mental Health Association www.amtamassage.org -- American Massage Therapy Association www.cognitivetherapynyc.com -- American Institute for Cognitive Therapy www.aabt.org -- Association for the Advancement of Behavior Therapy www.healthyminds.org -- The American Psychiatric Association www.naswdc.org -- The National Association of Social Workers www.aacap.org -- American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry

www.stress.org -- The American Institute of Stress

References
Dallman MF, Pecoraro NC, la Fleur SE. Chronic stress and comfort foods: self-medication and abdominal obesity. Brain Behav Immun. 2005;19:275-280. Field T, Hernandez-Reif M, Diego M, et al. Cortisol decreases and serotonin and dopamine increase following massage therapy. Int J Neurosci. 2005;115:1397-1413. Ginsburg KR and the Committee on Communications and Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health. Clinical Report: The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-ChildBonds. Last accessed on 17 October, 2006. Hammerfald K, Grau M, et al. Persistent effects of cognitive-behavioral stress management on cortisol responses to acute stress in healthy subjects-A randomized controlled trial. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2005 Sep 22; epub ahead of print. Kreitzer MJ, Gross CR, Ye X, et al. Longitudinal impact of mindfulness meditation on illness burden in solid-organ transplant recipients. Prog Transplant. 2005;15:166-172. Larzelere MM, Jones GN. Stress and Health. Primary Care: Clinics in Office Practice. 2008;35(4):839-856. Wang J. Work stress as a risk factor for major depressive episode(s). Psychol Med. 2005;35:865871.

Reviewed last on: 2/13/2009 Reviewed by: Harvey Simon, MD, Editor-in-Chief, Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Physician, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

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What is Stress?

Stress is not a useful term for scientists because it is such a highly subjective phenomenon that it defies definition. And if you cant define stress, how can you possibly measure it? The term stress, as it is currently used was coined by Hans Selye in 1936, who defined it as the non-specific response of the body to any demand for change. Selye had noted in numerous experiments that laboratory animals subjected to acute but different noxious physical and emotional stimuli (blaring light, deafening noise, extremes of heat or cold, perpetual frustration) all exhibited the same pathologic changes of stomach ulcerations, shrinkage of lymphoid tissue and enlargement of the adrenals. He later demonstrated that persistent stress could cause these animals to develop various diseases similar to those seen in humans, such as heart attacks, stroke, kidney disease and rheumatoid arthritis. At the time, it was believed that most diseases were caused by specific but different pathogens. Tuberculosis was due to the tubercle bacillus, anthrax by the anthrax bacillus, syphilis by a spirochete, etc. What Selye proposed was just the opposite, namely that many different insults could cause the same disease, not only in animals, but in humans as well.

Selyes theories attracted considerable attention and stress soon became a popular buzzword that completely ignored Selyes original definition. Some people used stress to refer to an overbearing or bad boss or some other unpleasant situation they were subjected to. For many, stress was their reaction to this in the form of chest pain, heartburn, headache or palpitations. Others used stress to refer to what they perceived as the end result of these repeated responses, such as an ulcer or heart attack. Many scientists complained about this confusion and one physician concluded in a 1951 issue of the British Medical Journal that, Stress in addition to being itself, was also the cause of itself, and the result of itself.

Unfortunately, Selye was not aware that stress had been used for centuries in physics to explain elasticity, the property of a material that allows it to resume its original size and shape after having been compressed or stretched by an external force. As expressed in Hookes Law of 1658, the magnitude of an external force, or stress, produces a proportional amount of deformation, or strain, in a malleable metal. This created even more confusion when his research had to be translated into foreign languages. There was no suitable word or phrase that could convey what he meant, since he was really describing strain. In 1946, when he was asked to give an address at the prestigious Collge de France, the academicians responsible for maintaining the

purity of the French language struggled with this problem for several days, and subsequently decided that a new word would have to be created. Apparently, the male chauvinists prevailed, and le stress was born, quickly followed by el stress, il stress, lo stress, der stress in other European languages, and similar neologisms in Russian, Japanese, Chinese and Arabic. Stress is one of the very few words you will see preserved in English in these and other languages that do not use the Roman alphabet.

Because it was apparent that most people viewed stress as some unpleasant threat, Selye subsequently had to create a new word, stressor, to distinguish stimulus from response. Stress was generally considered as being synonymous with distress and dictionaries defined it as physical, mental, or emotional strain or tension or a condition or feeling experienced when a person perceives that demands exceed the personal and social resources the individual is able to mobilize. Thus, stress was put in a negative light and its positive effects ignored. However, stress can be helpful and good when it motivates people to accomplish more.

As illustrated to the left, increased stress results in increased productivity up to a point, after which things go rapidly downhill. However, that point or peak differs for each of us, so you need to be sensitive to the early warning symptoms and signs that suggest a stress overload is starting to push you over the hump. Such signals also differ for each of us and can be so subtle that they are often ignored until it is too late. Not infrequently, others are aware that you may be headed for trouble before you are.

Any definition of stress should therefore also include good stress, or what Selye called eustress. For example, winning a race or election can be just as stressful as losing, or more so. A passionate kiss and contemplating what might follow is stressful, but hardly the same as having a root canal procedure.

Selye struggled unsuccessfully all his life to find a satisfactory definition of stress. In attempting to extrapolate his animal studies to humans so that people would understand what he meant, he redefined stress as The rate of wear and tear on the body. This is actually a pretty good description of biological aging so it is not surprising that increased stress can accelerate many aspects of the aging process. In his later years, when asked to define stress, he told reporters, Everyone knows what stress is, but nobody really knows.

As noted, stress is difficult to define because it is so different for each of us. A good example is afforded by observing passengers on a steep roller coaster ride. Some are hunched down in the back seats, eyes shut, jaws clenched and white knuckled with an iron grip on the retaining bar. They cant wait for the ride in the torture chamber to end so they can get back on solid ground and scamper away. But up front are the wide-eyed thrill seekers, yelling and relishing each steep plunge who race to get on the very next ride. And in between you may find a few with an air of nonchalance that borders on boredom. So, was the roller coaster ride stressful?

The roller coaster analogy is useful in explaining why the same stressor can differ so much for each of us. What distinguished the passengers in the back from those up front was the sense of control they had over the event. While neither group had any more or less control their perceptions and expectations were quite different. Many times we create our own stress because of faulty perceptions you can learn to correct. You can teach people to move from the back of the roller coaster to the front, and, as Eleanor Roosevelt noted, nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent. While everyone cant agree on a definition of stress, all of our experimental and clinical research confirms that the sense of having little or no control is always distressful and thats what stress is all about. http://www.stress.org/what-is-stress/