Stress
11 Case Studies
21 Member Stories
12 Research

What is stress?

Stress is an individual's physical and psychological reaction to environmental demands or pressures. Stress is a physical and psychological reaction that people experience as they experience changes in life. Anxiety is a normal sense. But, long-term stress may lead to or worsen a range of health problems such as digestive disorders, headaches, sleep disorders, and other ailments. Anxiety may worsen asthma and has been associated with depression, anxiety, and other psychological disorders.

Some people today use relaxation techniques (also referred to as relaxation response techniques) to release tension and to counteract the ill effects of stress. Relaxation techniques frequently combine breathing and concentrated attention on pleasing ideas and images to calm the brain and the body. A few examples of relaxation response techniques are autogenic training, biofeedback, deep breathing, guided imagery, progressive relaxation, and self-hypnosis. Head and body clinics, such as yoga and meditation, are also sometimes considered relaxation methods.

See: Ayurveda for stress & anxiety relief

Where does stress come from?

When stress was first studied, the term was used to denote both the causes and the experienced effects of these pressures.  More recently, however, the word stressor has been used for the stimulus that provokes a stress response.  One recurrent disagreement among researchers concerns the definition of stress in humans.  Is it primarily an outside reaction which can be measured by changes in glandular secretions, skin reactions, and other bodily functions, or is it an internal interpretation of, or reaction to, a stressor; or is it both?  Stress was first analyzed in 1896 by Walter B. Cannon (1871--1945).  Cannon used an x-ray instrument called a fluoroscope to study the digestive system of dogs. He noticed that the digestive process stopped when the dogs were under stress. Stress triggers adrenal hormones in the body and the hormones become unbalanced.  Based on these findings, Cannon continued his experimentation and came up with the term homeostasis, a state of equilibrium within the body.  Hans Selye, a Canadian scientist (1907--1982), noticed that people who suffered from chronic illness or disease revealed some of the exact symptoms.  Selye related this to stress and he started to test his hypothesis.  He subjected rats to different physical stress factors such as heat, noise, poison, and shock.  The rats showed enlarged glands, shrunken thymus glands and lymph nodes, and gastric ulcers.  Selye then developed the Three Phase Model of Stress Response. 


This model consisted of alarm, resistance, and exhaustion.  Selye also revealed that stress is mediated by cortisol, a hormone that is released from the adrenal gland.  This increases the amount of sugar within the body while under pressure.  Stress in humans results from interactions between persons and their environment that are perceived as faking or exceeding their adaptive capacities and threatening their well-being.  The element of perception suggests that human stress responses reflect differences in character, as well as differences in physical strength or overall wellbeing.  Risk factors for stress-related disorders are a mixture of personal, inter-personal, and social variables.  These factors include lack or loss of control over one's physical environment, and lack or loss of social support networks.  People who are dependent on others (e.g., children or the elderly) or who are socially disadvantaged (because of race, sex, educational level, or similar factors)are at greater risk of developing stress-related ailments.  Other risk factors include feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, extreme fear or anger, and cynicism or distrust of others.

See: Yoga & meditation for natural stress relief

What causes stress?

The causes of stress can include any event or occurrence that a person considers a threat to their coping strategies or resources.  Researchers generally agree that a certain degree of stress is a normal part of a living organism's reaction to the inevitable changes in its physical or social environment, and that positive in addition to negative events can create stress. Stress related disease, however, results from excessive and prolonged demands on an organism's coping resources.  It is currently considered that 80--90% of all disease is stress-related.   Recent research indicates that some vulnerability to stress is genetic. Scientists at the University of Wisconsin and King's College, London, found that people who inherited a brief, or stress-sensitive, version of the serotonin transporter gene were nearly 3 times as likely to experience depression following a stressful event as people with the long variant of the gene.  Further research is very likely to identify other genes that affect susceptibility to stress.  


In a 2008 study, scientists led by David Goldman, M. D., chief of the NIAAA Laboratory of Neurogenetics, identified gene variants that affect the expression of a signaling molecule called neuropeptide Y (NPY). They found that NPY is induced by stress and its release reduces anxiety.  NPY is found in brain and many other tissues, and regulates diverse functions, including appetite, weight, and emotional responses.


 Recent research has shown that some people experience significant stress and anxiety when they are separated from their phones and can even exhibit withdrawal like symptoms, comparable to those usually seen when someone has an addiction.  Some research has even shown that high levels of engagement with smart phones and multimedia technology may be physically changing our brain structure and function. 

The top 5 stressors can be summarized as: Perpetual Distraction , Sleep Dysregulation, Work/Life Balance or imbalance, Fear Of Missing Out and endless Social Comparisons.


See: Can stress cause acid reflux

What are some stress symptoms?

The symptoms of stress can be either psychological or physical. Stress-related physical illnesses, such as irritable bowel syndrome, heart attacks, and chronic headaches, result from long-term overstimulation of a part of the nervous system which regulates the heart rate, blood pressure, and digestive tract.  Stress related psychological illness results from inadequate or inappropriate responses to significant changes in your life situation, such as marriage, completing one's education, the death of a loved one, divorce, becoming a parent, losing a job, or retirement.  Psychiatrists sometimes use the term adjustment disorder to describe this type of illness.  In the workplace, stress-related illness frequently takes the form of burnout--a reduction of interest in or ability to perform one's job due to long-term high stress levels.  

See: How To Lower High Cortisol Levels Naturally

Can stress harm your health?

An extreme amount of stress can have a serious emotional toll.  While people may overcome minor episodes of anxiety by tapping into their body's natural defenses to adapt to changing situations, excessive chronic stress, which is constant and continues over a protracted period of time, can be psychologically and physically debilitating.  


Unlike everyday stressors, which may be handled with healthy stress management behaviors, untreated chronic stress can lead to serious health conditions including anxiety, insomnia, muscle pain, higher blood pressure and a weakened immune system. Research shows that stress can contribute to the growth of major illnesses, such as heart disease, depression and obesity.


Some studies have even suggested that unhealthy chronic stress management, such as overating "comfort" foods, has contributed to the growing obesity epidemic. However, despite its connection to disease, APA's Anxiety in America survey revealed that 33 percent of Americans never discuss ways to deal with stress with their health care provider. 


Chronic Stress can occur in response to everyday stressors that are ignored or poorly managed, and to exposure to traumatic events.  The consequences of chronic stress are serious, particularly as it contributes to anxiety and depression.  Individuals who suffer from depression and anxiety are at double the risk for heart disease than people with no conditions. Additionally, research has shown that there's an association involving both acute and chronic stress and a individual's misuse of addictive substances.


See: Headache, Low Back Pain, and Stress with Bisoma Acupuncture

How is stress diagnosed?

When the doctor suspects a patient's disease is linked to anxiety, he or she'll have a careful history that includes stressors in the patient's lifestyle (family or employment issues, other illnesses, etc.). Many physicians will assess the patient's personality also, to be able to evaluate their working resources and emotional response patterns. There are a number of personality inventories and mental tests that physicians can use to help diagnose the amount of stress that the individual encounters and the coping strategies he or she uses to handle them. Stress-related illness can be identified by primary care physicians in addition to by people who specialize in psychiatry. The doctor will have to distinguish between adjustment disorders and mood or anxiety disorders, and between psychiatric disorders and physical illnesses (e.g. thyroid activity) which have emotional side effects.

See: Ashwagandha benefits for anxiety

Natural remedies & treatments for stress

Comfort training, yoga, t'ai chi, and dance therapy help patients alleviate physical and psychological symptoms of stress. Hydrotherapy, massage therapy, and aromatherapy are helpful to some anxious patients because they can promote general relaxation of the nervous system. Essential oils of lavender, chamomile, neroli, sweet marjoram, and ylang-ylang are generally suggested by aromatherapists for anxiety relief. 

Meditation may also be a helpful tool for controlling anxiety. Guided imagery, where a person is taught to envision a more pleasing and relaxing mental picture to be able to counteract feelings of anxiety, is also valuable. A lot of people may find activities like exercise, art, music, and writing helpful in reducing stress and promoting relaxation. 

Sometimes the best treatment for relieving stress is a relative or friend who will listen. Speaking about stressful events and situations can help someone work through their problems and consequently lower the degree of stress associated with them. Using a social support system to turn to in times of difficulty is crucial to everyone's psychological and physical well-being. Pet therapy has also been reported to relieve stress. 

Herbs called adaptogens may also be prescribed by herbalists or holistic health care providers to relieve stress. These herbs are believed to encourage adaptability to stress, and contain Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus), ginseng (Panax ginseng), wild yam (Dioscorea villosa), borage (Borago officinalis), licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra), chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile), milk thistle (Silybum marianum), and nettle (Urtica dioica). 

Practitioners of Ayurvedic, or traditional Indian, medication might prescribe root of winter cherry, fruit of emblic myrobalan, or the conventional formulas geriforte or mentat to decrease tension and repair the imbalance in the vata dosha. 

It's also said that stress lowers the body's immune reaction, therefore vitamin supplementation can help in preventing the depletion. Diet is also important--coffee and other caffeinated beverages in large doses create jitteriness, restlessness, anxiety, and sleeplessness. High-protein foods from animal sources increase brain levels of dopamine and norepinephrine, which are associated with high levels of stress and stress. Whole grains encourage generation of the brain neurotransmitter dopamine to get a greater feeling of well-being. 

See: Echinacea for Anxiety, Herbal Medicine with Effective Results

Stress management techniques

Studies have also illustrated the powerful connection between insomnia and chronic anxiety. Based on APA's Anxiety in America poll, over 40 percent of adults say they lie awake at night due to stress. Experts recommend going to bed at a regular time every night, trying for at least seven to eight hours of sleep and removing distractions like television and computers in the bedroom.


Many Americans who undergo prolonged stress aren't making the lifestyle changes required to decrease anxiety and ultimately prevent health issues. Improving behavioral and lifestyle choices are crucial steps toward improving general health and preventing chronic stress. The key to managing stress is recognizing and changing the behaviors that cause it, but altering your behavior can be challenging.


Taking one small step to lower your stress and improve your emotional health, like going on a daily walk, may have a beneficial impact. Being busy is a small but effective change you can make to handle stress. Physical activity increases your body's production of feel-good endorphins, a sort of neurotransmitter in the brain, and assists in treating moderate forms of depression and anxiety. Eating a wholesome diet and improving both the quantity and quality of your sleep may be beneficial.


But bear in mind, if a high pressure level lasts for a long time period, or if possible problems from anxiety continue to interfere with activities of daily living, it's important to reach out to a certified mental health professional, including a psychologist. Research indicates that chronic stress may be treated with appropriate interventions like lifestyle and behavior change, treatment, and in certain circumstances, medicine.[10]  

A psychologist can help you ovecome the barriers that are preventing you from living a healthy life, handle stress effectively and help identify behaviors and situations which are contributing to your always significant stress level.

The toll of stress tends to accumulate over time. Taking practical measures to deal with your anxiety can reduce or prevent these consequences. The following are some tips that may help you to cope with anxiety:


• Recognize the signs of your body's reaction to stress, such as difficulty sleeping, increased alcohol and other substance use, being easily angered, feeling depressed, and having low energy.


• Speak with Your Doctor . Get appropriate health care for new or existing health issues.

• Get Regular Exercise. Just thirty minutes per day of walking can help improve your mood and reduce stress.

• Try a Relaxing Activity. Explore stress coping applications, which might incorporate yoga, meditation, tai chi, or other gentle exercises. For some stress-related conditions, these approaches are utilized along with other kinds of treatment. Schedule regular times for these and other healthful and relaxing activities. Find out more about these techniques on the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) site at (www.nccih.nih.gov/health/stress).

• Establish Goals and Priorities. Decide what must get done and what can wait, and learn how to say no to new jobs if they're placing you into overload. Note what you've accomplished at the end of the day, not what you've been unable to perform.

• Stay connected with individuals who can provide psychological and other support. To reduce stress, ask for help from friends, family, and community or religious organizations.

See: Astragalus root or huang qi to boost immunity

Can stress be prevented?

Total prevention of stress is neither possible nor desirable because stress Is an important stimulation of human growth and creativity, in addition to being an inevitable part of life. Moreover, specific strategies for stress prevention vary widely from person to person, depending on the character and number of the stressors in somebody's lifetime, and the amount of control he or she has over these factors. Generally, however, a combination of attitudinal and behavioral changes work well for many patients. The best form of prevention appears to be parental modeling of healthy attitudes and behaviors within the family.

See: Beginning Meditation to Reduce Stress

References

1. Gayle Encyclopedia of ALternative Medicine

2. NIH: New Research Helps Explain Why People Under Stress Are More Susceptible to Colds

(04/02/12)  https://nccih.nih.gov/research/results/spotlight/040212

3. NIH: Electroacupuncture Helps With Chronic Stress in Laboratory Rats 

(01/01/12)  https://nccih.nih.gov/research/results/spotlight/010112.htm

4. NIH: Long-Term Yoga Practice May Decrease Women's Stress 

(02/15/10)  https://nccih.nih.gov/research/results/spotlight/051510.htm

5. Transcendental Meditation Helps Young Adults Cope With Stress 

(12/14/09) https://nccih.nih.gov/research/results/spotlight/051410.htm

6. Mantram Instruction May Help HIV-Positive Individuals Handle Stress 

(01/06/09)

7. Stress Management Interventions May Enhance Immune Function in People With HIV

(06/02/08)

8. Music and the Brain: Report on an NIH/Kennedy Center Workshop 

(03/21/18)  https://nccih.nih.gov/research/results/spotlight/Music

9. Study Finds a Possible Biological Reason for Health Benefits From Marriage 

(01/19/17)  https://nccih.nih.gov/research/results/spotlight/marriage

10. National Survey Finds People Use Dietary Supplements and Yoga for Wellness Reasons, Chiropractic for Treating a Condition  (11/04/15)  https://nccih.nih.gov/research/results/spotlight/110415

11. https://www.apa.org/helpcenter/understanding-chronic-stress

12. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/stress/index.shtml

13. https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/scientists-find-genetic-factor-stress-response-variability

14. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/stress/index.shtml

15. https://www.open.edu/openlearn/health-sports-psychology/mental-health/managing-stress-and-anxiety-the-digital-age-the-dark-side-technology

16.  Baum, A. (1990). "Stress, Intrusive Imagery, and Chronic Distress," Health Psychology, Vol. 6, pp. 653-675. 

17.  Anderson, N.B. (1998). "Levels of Analysis in Health Science: A Framework for Integrating Sociobehavioral and Biomedical Research," Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, Vol. 840, pp. 563-576. 

18. Baum, A. & Polsusnzy, D. (1999). "Health Psychology: Mapping Biobehavioral Contributions to Health and Illness." Annual Review of Psychology, Vol. 50, pp. 137-163. 

19.  Dallman, M. et al.  (2003). "Chronic stress and obesity: A new view of 'comfort food.'" PNAS, Vol. 100, pp. 11696-11701. 

20. Anderson, N.B. & Anderson, P.E. (2003). Emotional Longevity: what really determines how long you live. New York: Viking. 

21. Sinha, R. (2008). "Chronic Stress, Drug Use, and Vulnerability to Addiction." Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, Vol. 1141, pp. 105-130.

See: Pancha Karma Therapy a Boon for Chronic Disease

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