Stress has been linked to between 50 and 70 percent of all illnesses. Some mental and physical conditions that can be psychosomatic (or stress – caused) include high blood pressure and heart disease; psychiatric disorders, such as depression and schizophrenia; indigestion; colitis; poor posture; headaches; insomnia; diarrhoea; constipation; increased blood- clotting time; increased cholesterol concentration; diuresis; edema; and low back pain. Other serious diseases, such as cancer, can be influenced by a person’s state of mind. In many cases, there is considerable time between a major stressor and the onset of a disease, so we do not always associate the two. Because of this, it is likely that the effect of stress on our body’s function is underestimated. Stress affects nearly everyone to some degree. In fact, approximately 67 percent of adults indicate that they feel “great stress” at least one day a week. Because stress is such a common problem in our society, stress management is viewed as a priority lifestyle similar to physical activity and a healthy diet. This concept will review the cause and consequence of stress. The following concept will provide practical guidelines on how to manage stress more effectively. All living creatures are in a continual state of stress (some more, some less). It is so pervasive that the body has a built-in mechanism that helps it to respond and adapt to stress. When the body experiences a significant stressor, it triggers an emotional response that, in turn, evokes the autonomic nervous system to activate the “fight-or– flight” response. This adaptive and protective mechanism stimulates the adrenal glands to secrete hormones (epinephrine and cortical) that prepare the body for what is perceived as a threat or assault on the whole organism. Almost all body systems are alerted to a heightened state of readiness as a result of this hormonal response. In some instances, this alarm reaction of the body may be essential to survival, but when evoked inappropriately or excessively, it may be more harmful than the effects of the original stressor. For example, a flight– or flight response may cause a coronary spasm that could lead to a heart attack.
Stress is not always harmful. In fact, a lack of stress, some, times called “rust out”, can lead to boredom, apathy, and less than optimal health. Moderate stress may enhance behavioral adaptation and is necessary for maturation and health. It stimulates psychological growth. It has been said that “freedom from stress is death” and “stress is the spice of life”. According to Hans Selye, the father of modern stress theory, the physiological and emotional effects of stress are adaptive responses that assist the body in adjusting to the stress. You would expect mild stress to produce mild adaptations, and strong stress to produce strong adaptive responses, but this is not so. High levels of threat tend to evoke ineffective, disorganized behavior that impairs the ability to function effectively. The amount of stress that you can adapt to comfortably is what Selye called eustress and would, in a sense, be the target zone for stress. The excessive level of stress that compromises our function and well- being is known as distress.
What one person finds stressful may not be stressful to another person, and stress affects people differently. Stress mobilizes some to greater efficiency, while it confuses and disorganizes others. For example, skydiving or riding a roller coaster would be thrilling for some people, but for others, it would be a very stressful and unpleasant experience. An individual’s response to stress depends upon the intensity of the threat, the type of situation in which it occurs, and such personal variables as cultural background, tolerance levels, past experience, and personality. Many contemporary health psychologists acknowledge the complexity of the stress response and view stress as an interactive process. From this perspective, the nature of the stressor is not as important as the way a person appraises stress and what coping strategies are used to deal with stress. Two people can experience the same stressor but may respond very differently depending on how they appraise it and/or cope with it.