Stress affects everyone, even children, but at different degrees and intensities. Amongst good stress, which allows us to be vigilant and efficient, and the bad stress, which prevents us from functioning properly, there are all the minor daily stress situations which we must overcome and deal with. How does stress develop? What are the causes? The consequences? This is the issue which some people call the evil of the century.
What is stress?
Stress can be defined as being a state of physical disturbance caused by a mental, physical or emotional agent. Confronted with a dangerous, exhausting or distressing situation, the body produces stress-specific hormones: adrenaline and cortisol. Adrenaline, which is secreted first, stimulates the heartbeat, respiration and circulation of the blood towards the muscles. Cortisol then invades the entire body to help the adrenaline keep energy at a high enough level. Cortisol equally converts fat into sugar and brings more energy to our bodies.
Stress is a psychological and physical reaction of the body when we’re confronted with a difficult situation which requires us to adapt. In some circumstances, we can refer to it as good stress, which is because it can stimulate motivation, spirit and cause us to be livelier and more alert in some situations.
What are the sources of stress?
Many factors can cause stress such as exams, job interviews, competitions, work-family balance, a lack of time, financial problems, an accident or even noise.
Researchers have considered that there are two main categories of “stressors”, meaning the situations that cause the production of the stress hormones. There are physical “stressors” who represent all the factors that affect our body such as injuries, pain or diseases. Psychological “stressors” combine all these events, situations or the individuals that have a negative or dangerous effect on us, such as being pressed for time at work, not finding a means of care for your child, taking an important exam or a job interview.
Researchers have remarked that despite stressful situations or events that differ from one individual to another, there are four common characteristics that induce a stress response in everyone, therefore causing the secretion of hormones. These four elements that researchers call “the recipe for stress”, are control (the individual feels that they have hardly any or no control over the situation), unpredictability (an unexpected event occurs, or the individual is unaware of what will happen), change (something new happens, for example the arrival of a child, or having to experience something new) and a threatened ego (someone doubting your skills or abilities).
What are the symptoms of stress?
Stress can cause physical symptoms, but also psychological. Here is a list of the main signs of stress:
- Increase in heart rate and blood pressure
- Acceleration in respiration
- Increase in body temperature
- Different senses being on alert (dilation of pupils, secretion of endorphins in case of pain and injuries)
- Digestive problems (dry mouth, bladder and intestines that don’t work normally)
- The reproductive system stops (interrupted ovulation, reduction of the testosterone production)
- Decrease in libido
- Problems with sleep and appetite
- Irritability, agitation, indecision, anxiety, worrying, finding it difficult to concentrate, sadness
Consequences of stress
During a stressful situation that persists for an individual, the body becomes overwhelmed and tired. By always producing more hormones, the body can no longer relax and so becomes more and more exhausted. This is called chronic stress.
The individual therefore becomes physically and mentally tired and different symptoms can appear, such as headaches, insomnia, a loss of appetite, eczema, anxiety and also depression. Cardiovascular illnesses can also appear in people who suffer chronic stress.
The best way to deal with stress
Some sports and mild methods can relieve stress and allow the sufferer to better deal with the symptoms. Physical activity, sport but also yoga, relaxation and meditation form efficient defences against stress. It is also advised, for stressful people, to reduce their consumption of stimulants like coffee or tea.