Stress is an unpleasant fact of life. We all experience it for various reasons, and we all try to come up with ways of coping with it—some with more success than others. So what exactly is stress doing to your mind (and body) when you’re staring down a deadline? And what can you do to power through it?
The real problem with stress is that, for such a well understood and universally experienced condition, as a society we deal with it so poorly that it leads to many of our most lethal illnesses and long-term health problems. High blood pressure, heart disease, cancer, stroke, obesity, and insomnia are all medical conditions across the spectrum that can be related to or directly influenced by high stress as an environmental condition.
In order to cut through some of that fog, let’s take a brief look at what stress is, how it impacts us on a physical and mental level, and finally what we can do about it, with the help of some experts.
Defining Stress: Acute and Chronic
Everyone experiences stress in some way, shape, or form. We all recognize when we’re in stressful situations, and we all know when we’re stressed. At the same time, stress is more than just a feeling that we have a lot to deal with. For the purposes of our explainer, we’re focusing on so-called “bad stress,” as opposed to “good stress,” like the kind of you experience on a roller coaster (if you went on willingly), when you get a big promotion, or kiss someone for the first time. Aside from good stress, there are primarily two types of stress: Acute (short-term) stress that’s usually a response to a specific influence (called a stressor), and chronic (long-term) stress that sticks with you and could either have sprung from a short-term stress that stuck with you, or a constant state of stress that you’re under due to persistent stressors and conditions. Photo by Becky Wetherington.
Acute Stress: Acute stress is the type of stress you experience when you have an immediate reaction to something you’re presented with. This is the “in the moment” kind of fight or flight response that you have when you have to speak in a meeting, your boss just asked you to stay late, you’re startled by a sudden noise, or someone on the internet makes a ill-informed comment about your favorite smartphone platform/operating system/hardware manufacturer. (How could they!?)
Acute stress is defined by the fact that it’s immediate and short term. In most cases, once the stressor has been removed, your body and mind return to a normal state.
Chronic Stress: Chronic stress is entirely different, and is characterized by its long-term nature. This is the type of stress that you feel that you’re under every day, with no reprieve from the things that make you feel stressed. Most chronic stressors are situations, for example, in which you dislike your job and detest going every day, being there all day, and thinking about it when you leave. Living paycheck-to-paycheck and struggling with financial security issues is another common source of chronic stress that many people are familiar with.
Its these types of chronic stress situations that are the most dangerous. They keep your body’s defenses activated and heightened longer than is generally healthy, and unfortunately more and more of us are living under constant conditions that create stress. Add to this the fact that “coping with stress” isn’t exactly a topic you learn in school and you have a recipe for a lot of very unhappy people.
What’s Actually Happening When You’re Stressed
Your body shows signs of stress in two ways: first, the rush of hormones that elevate your heart rate, boost your blood pressure, and stop your digestion, and then second the symptoms that you experience and are aware of, like clenched teeth, headaches, and emotional upset.
Most of us can tell when we’re stressed momentarily, or are just feeling stressed out generally, but there’s a lot going on inside our bodies when we’re stressed that play a role in our health.
How to Deal with Stress In the Future
This is just a short introduction, but unsurprisingly, entire books have been written on the topic of stress, its medical and psychological implications, and how you can deal with it in healthy ways. While we hope we’ve given you some insight into how your body reacts to stressors and how you can manage them in the moment and on the long term, we know that this is by no means an exhaustive study into the topic.
LINK to full story