Modern life is full of pressure, stress and frustration. Worrying about your job security, being overworked, driving in rush-hour traffic, and arguing with your spouse, all create stress.
Modern life is full of pressure, stress and frustration. Worrying about your job security, being overworked, driving in rush-hour traffic, arguing with your spouse – all these create stress. According to a recent survey by the American Psychology Association, fifty-four percent of Americans are concerned about the level of stress in their everyday lives and two-thirds of Americans say they are likely to seek help for stress.
You may feel physical stress as the result of too much to do, not enough sleep, a poor diet or the effects of an illness. Stress can also be mental: when you worry about money, a loved one’s illness, retirement, or experience an emotionally devastating event, such as the death of a spouse or being fired from work.
However, much of our stress comes from less dramatic everyday responsibilities. Obligations and pressures which are both physical and mental are not always obvious to us. In response to these daily strains your body automatically increases blood pressure, heart rate, respiration, metabolism, and blood flow to your muscles. This response is intended to help your body react quickly and effectively to a high-pressure situation.
Often referred to as the “fight-or-flight” reaction, the stress response occurs automatically when you feel threatened. Your body’s fight-or-flight reaction has strong biological roots. It’s there for self-preservation. This reaction gave early humans the energy to fight aggressors or run from predators and was important to help the human species survive. But today, instead of protecting you, it may have the opposite effect. If you are constantly stressed you may actually be more vulnerable to life-threatening health problems.
Any sort of change in life can make you feel stressed, even good change. It’s not just the change or event itself, but also how you react to it that matters. What may be stressful is different for each person. For example, one person may not feel stressed by retiring from work, while another may feel stressed.
When you experience stress, your pituitary gland responds by increasing the release of a hormone called adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). When the pituitary sends out this burst of ACTH, it’s like an alarm system going off deep inside your brain. This alarm tells your adrenal glands, situated atop your kidneys, to release a flood of stress hormones into your bloodstream, including cortisol and adrenaline. These stress hormones cause a whole series of physiological changes in your body, such as increasing your heart rate and blood pressure, shutting down your digestive system, and altering your immune system. Once the perceived threat is gone, the levels of cortisol and adrenaline in your bloodstream decline, and your heart rate and blood pressure and all of your other body functions return to normal.