What is Stress and how does it affect you?

What is Stress?

This is such a good question because stress to one person is nothing to someone else. So over the next month I’m going to discuss the following categories of stress and you can make your mind up – what stressed you out?

“Because if you know what stresses you out you may be able to change it…..”

The categories as I see them can roughly be broken down as follows:

·       Physical stresses

·       Emotional/Mental stresses

·       Spiritual stresses

·       Society stresses

·       Electromagnetic stresses

·       Time stresses

So before discussing the different causes of stress, I want to discuss what the stress response is in your body, and what this means for you.

A stress response happens when what is happening to your body is bigger than your body’s capacity to handle. For example, asking a very small, elderly lady to spend her day chopping down and chopping up trees would be a great example of something that might exceed her capacity. Or asking a 14 year old to sit an A-Level paper, when they haven’t yet studied the subject matter.

But what actually happens in your body?

When your body is put under excessive challenge, stress hormones are released including adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones whizz around your body telling you that your life is in danger and to prepare to fight. This is called the “fight-flight” response.

The Fight Flight or Stress Response

What happens in your body is all about short term survival including:

·       Blood pressure goes up

·       Blood clotting goes up (to reduce blood loss if injured)

·       Blood flows to your arms and legs

·       Muscles become tense and tight, ready to run or fight

·       Blood sugar goes up (energy supply)

·       Your mind becomes focussed on survival – tunnel vision

And at the same time the following systems in your body get less energy and focus because they don’t contribute to immediate survival.

·       Your immune system is supressed

·       Your gut slows down or stops digesting food

·       Sexual function/libido decreases

·       Your bladder relaxes

All of these responses are great as a short term strategy but if this becomes the norm it’s easy to see the kinds of diseases that are associated with chronic stress, including:

·       Heart disease


·       High blood pressure

·       Diabetes

·       Chronic pain

·       Autoimmune disease

·       Digestive problems

·       Sexual dysfunction

·       Chronic fatigue

·       Cancer

So the stress response is really important, because when stress overwhelms it can cause huge problems to our health and our capacity to function both at work and in relationships.

Next time: The Physical Causes of Stress