What is stress?

The term “stress” can have many different meanings and can relate to many different things. At times, it is used to refer to environmental events that trigger a bodily reaction. At other times, it is used to describe that reaction itself.

Stress is the body’s natural response to demands. It is usually felt as an urgency or tension. Stress is a natural and, indeed, a necessary part of life. Positive stress can feel exciting and helps you meet your challenges. But prolonged stress can lead to damaging stress reactions that result in psychological and emotional disorders, psychosomatic disorders (a physical disorder whose cause is linked to an emotional state), and even life-threatening diseases.

What are stressor triggers?

There are two types of stressors -- those outside the person and those that are more within the person. Examples of stressors outside the person include economic pressures; rapid technological, social, or personal change; difficult work environments; and interpersonal conflicts. Factors within the individual that influence stress include personality patterns, patterns of thinking and acting, unrealistic expectations, unmet needs, and genetics.

What are the symptoms of stress?

Physical symptoms of stress may include:

  • Tightened muscles
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Rising blood pressure
  • Grinding teeth and clenched jaw
  • Sleeplessness
  • Clammy hands, excessive perspiration
  • Upset stomach
  • Headaches
  • Back pain
  • Gastrointestinal symptoms
  • Fatigue

Emotional symptoms include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Nervousness, restlessness, agitation
  • Irritability
  • Nightmares
  • Substance abuse

Personal performance may decline in many areas. Interpersonal relationships may deteriorate. There may be an increase in unhealthy habits such as excessive drinking, smoking, or over-eating.

Finally, personal health may be compromised. Many diseases are either related to or worsened by stress. Stress has been linked to colitis, high blood pressure, strokes, heart problems, chronic headaches, asthma, skin disorders, and other conditions. Stress may harm one's immune system.