what is stress
For some, Stress is the feeling of being stretched to the breaking point like a rubber band about to snap. For others, it is the events that lead to muscle tension, tightened fists, and clenched jaws.
Dr. Hans Selye, a pioneer stress researcher described it as the response of the body to any of a variety of demands, such as extremes of temperature. Later researchers have defined it as the state in which individuals are faced with the need to make difficult or undesirable changes in order to adapt to events and situations in their lives. Under this definition, stress includes not only the body’s response to physical and psychological demands, but the mental, emotional, and behavioral responses as well.
The demands may be highly significant. But more often they are the ordinary hassles we all experience in the course of our daily routine—a traffic jam, a disagreement with a colleague, a deadline at work, a day that just does not go as planned. It is the way we handle these demands that has a profound impact on our health and well-being.
Not all stress is detrimental. Indeed, a certain amount of stress in life is desirable. It relieves monotony, spurs people toward worthwhile goals, and is an integral part of many pleasurable activities: the joy experienced with successful accomplishments., for example. Selye coined the word “eustress” (good stress] to refer to stress of this kind, and to distinguish it from distress, which is prejudicial to health and well-being. How can an individual tell whether the stress experienced during a difficult task is eustress or distress? The most apparent distinguishing characteristics is emotional: Eustress is associated with joy, exhilaration, a feeling of a job well done; distress is associated with frustration, anger, anxiety, fatigue,or a general feeling that something is wrong.
How Stress works mental, emotional, and behav1oral responses
A person faced with a particular situation assesses it to determine whether it calls for anything special—that is, he or she interprets the event. These mental responses lead the individual to take the action the situation requires. This behavioral response may be calm or, if the situation is perceived as highly demanding and upsetting, it may be associated with negative emotions such as irritation or anxiety.
For example, some people faced with a deadline experience a sense of dread and foreboding. They perceive the situation as insurmountable and become virtually paralyzed. Others are motivated by deadlines,and do their best work “against the clock.” Some people can study in a crowded subway car; others find they need quiet and solitude, or concentration is impossible.
Another factor affecting how people react is their sense of having or not having control. One study found that assembly-line workers who could control the pace of work or select their work station on the line were able to work more effectively than colleagues on a “set” assembly line. The workers with some flexibility felt better at the end of the work day and had fewer stress-related problems. Other studies have found that a lack of autonomy is one of the major characteristics of a stressful job.
Yet another factor making a situation stressful is unpredictability. A loud unexpected noise makes us “jump out of our skins”; the same noise, if we know it is coming, is no more than an unpleasant sound.Similarly, it is unexpected bills and unexpected traffic jams that we find to be most taxing.
It also seems that people with “stress-buffering” resources—including a social support network, good overall health, and a clear sense of self-worth—are better able than others to deal with the stress in their lives. It appears that these resources enable a person to keep things in perspective and not become stressed as easily. They also enable a person to have a sense of being able to handle whatever comes along during the day. Last, they provide a sense of belonging and of having people around to call on in times of need.
The mental, behavioral, and emotional responses described above play a key role in determining the magnitude of what is commonly called the “fight-or-flight response,” an innate set of physiological changes that occur during stress and prepare the body to meet the associated demands. Humans share this response with other animals, and it has been part of our physiologic makeup since the earliest times.
The “fight-or-flight’ response occurs automatically in a dangerous or challenging situation—or one that is perceived as being dangerous or challenging. Within a split second, the sympathetic nervous system “turns on” and the pituitary gland releases certain hormones that result in the pouring out of adrenaline-like substances and cortisol, which gird the body and the brain for action. In response to these hormones, many changes occur throughout the body. The heartbeat quickens, the blood pressure rises, and blood is directed to the large muscles and the brain—the areas that need it most for effective performance. Fat is mobilized from tissues in the body where it is stored and transformed into fatty acids so that it is available to fuel the muscles.
In situations of real danger, such as being caught in a fire, the physiological changes that occur with stress can be life-saving, as they ready the body for extraordinary action. When demands are physical, as they often were in earlier times, the hormones and fats released during the stress response are rapidly delivered to the muscles by the increased heart rate and blood pressure. In the muscles, they are “burned up” as the work is carried out. Thus, the sympathetic nervous system response can lead to effective mobilization of the body’s resources to respond to highly challenging physical demands. While it is hard to mistake the pounding heart and sweating palms of a full-blown fight-or-flight response occurring in the face of physical threat, the response to mental challenge or to chronically stressful situations may be more subtle—and more damaging.