Stress is a feeling of emotional or physical tension. The body and brain react to any need or demand that it sees as a challenge or obstacle. We all feel stressed at times, but what one person finds stressful may be very different from what another finds stressful. An example of this would be public speaking. Some love the thrill of it and others become paralyzed at the very thought. Stress triggers your fight-or-flight response in order to fight the stressor or run away from it. Typically, after the response occurs, your body should relax. Too much constant stress can have negative effects on your long-term health. Stress should be temporary, once you’ve passed the fight-or-flight moment, your heart rate and breathing should slow down and your muscles should relax. In a short time, your body should return to its natural state without any lasting negative effects. On the other hand, severe, frequent, or prolonged stress can be mentally and physically harmful.
There are three types of stress. Acute stress happens to everyone. It’s the body’s immediate reaction to a new and challenging situation. It’s the kind of stress you might feel when you narrowly escape a car accident. Acute stress can also come out of something that you actually enjoy. It’s the somewhat frightening, yet thrilling feeling you get on a roller coaster or when skiing down a steep mountain slope. These incidents of acute stress don’t normally do you any harm. They might even be good for you. Stressful situations give your body and brain practice in developing the best response to future stressful situations.
Severe acute stress is a different story. This kind of stress, such as when you’ve faced a life-threatening situation, can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or other mental health problems. Episodic acute stress is when you have frequent episodes of acute stress. This might happen if you’re often anxious and worried about things you suspect may happen. You might feel that your life is chaotic and you seemingly go from one crisis to the next.
Chronic stress is a consistent sense of feeling pressured and overwhelmed over a long period of time. It is a prolonged and constant feeling of stress that can negatively affect your health if it goes untreated.
Stress produces both physical and psychological symptoms that can take a toll on a person’s ability to function normally in their daily life. Symptoms of stress include aches and pains, decreased energy, difficulty sleeping, disorganized thinking, fatigue, feeling a loss of control, feelings of helplessness, frequent illnesses and infections, gastrointestinal complaints, headaches, irritability, muscle tension, nervousness, anxiety, trouble concentrating, and stomach upset.