What Is Stress, and How Does It Affect Me?
You know what stress is. It’s the weight on your chest when you’re about to give a big presentation; it’s the sweat on your palms as you tell someone some bad news; it’s the twitching in your fingers and in your head when you miss out on something you wanted.
But what is it really? Stress, in physiological terms, is the body’s response to certain triggers. These triggers include situations that make us uncomfortable, related to anything from relationships to work to money to countless other things. When you feel uncomfortable, the part of your brain called the hypothalamus releases hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol.
These hormones put your mind and body into a sort of overdrive. Your energy levels are increased, your glucose in your bloodstream is heightened, and your blood pressure and heart rate are elevated. A hundred other things happen too, including the temporary pause of your digestive system (there’s a reason why you usually don’t feel hungry when you’re anxiously awaiting bad news, unless you stress eat, of course).
After your uncomfortable situation has passed, your body goes back to its normal state. Your hormones return to regular levels, your heart rate and blood pressure go back down, and everything starts running at its usual pace. However, the modern world regularly places us in stressful situation after stressful situation, preventing us from returning to our “normal” state for extended periods of time.
This extended state of stress can hurt us in so many ways, causing both psychological and physical problems. Psychologically, we may become depressed, run out of motivation, experience severe anxiety and restlessness. Physically, we may experience chest pain, sleeping problems, muscle tension, headaches, fatigue, high blood pressure, and so many more.
Being stuck in extended periods of stress (a bad relationship or a tough job) forces people to develop strategies to deal with their constant states of heightened anxiety. These coping strategies can include smoking, drinking, or other ways to vent their anger, many of which are generally unhealthy or addictive.