Tension and anxiety are very common problems in society today, and many people will suffer from symptoms of stress at some time in their lives. You may encounter stress from a number of sources including:
Personal Stress which may be caused by the nature of your work, changes in your life or personal problems.
Stress in family or friends, which in turn may affect you.
Stress in your colleagues, which also may affect you. (See Workplace Stress)
As the effects of stress can be, at the very least, unpleasant this article sets out to give an overview of stress, together with its causes and consequences, and the means by which it can be avoided, confronted. managed and reduced.
What is Stress?
Stress is a response to an inappropriate level of pressure.
Stress can be described as the distress that is caused as a result of demands placed on physical or mental energy. Stress can arise as the result of:
Anxiety is caused when life events are felt to be threatening to individual physical, social or mental well-being. The amount of anxiety experienced by an individual depends on:
- How threatening these life events are perceived to be.
- Individual coping strategies.
- How many stressful events occur in a short period of time.
Tension is a natural reaction to anxiety. It is part of a primitive survival instinct where physiological changes prepare the individual for ‘fight or flight’. This sympathetic response, as it is known, results in a chemical Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) being released in the body and causes muscles to tense ready for action.
Blood vessels near the skin constrict, to slow bleeding if injury is sustained, and to increase the blood supply to the muscles, heart, lungs and brain. Digestion is inhibited, the bladder relaxes, the heart rate and breathing speed increase, the body sweats more. The person affected becomes more alert, their eyes dilate and a surge of adrenaline gives rise to an increase in energy.
These responses are extremely useful in situations of physical danger but, unlike for primitive humans, many of the anxieties of modern life are not ones that can be solved by a ‘fight or flight’ reaction or by any physical response. Modern day stressful situations tend to continue for much longer periods of time and an immediate response does not relieve the anxiety-provoking situation. Therefore, prolonged states of anxiety can lead to symptoms of stress which prevent the individual from returning to his or her normal, relaxed state.
Physical Signs of Stress
In addition to feeling uneasy, tense and worried, physical sensations of continued stress can include:
- Indigestion or heartburn
- Tension headaches
- Aching muscles
- Trembling or eye twitches
- Frequent urination
People are often unaware that they are suffering from stress and visit the doctor with symptoms of indigestion, muscle pain, headaches, etc. Severe stress can lead to panic attacks, chest pains, phobias and fears of being seriously ill.
Continued stress can lead to feelings of lethargy and tiredness, migraine, severe stomach upset and sleeplessness. As with all such symptoms, medical help should be sought. However, once symptoms are recognised as being caused by stress it is possible to control and reduce stress levels. This can be done through learning a number of stress reduction techniques.