Stress is one of the most common ailments affecting Americans these days. A recent Carnegie Mellon University study found that that peoples’ self-reported stress levels have increased by as much as 30% over the last thirty years. It even impacts the economy, as every day in America, one million employees miss work due to workplace stress. To understand why stress affects us so much and what we can do about it, read on:
Top Causes of Stress
According to the American Psychological Association’s American Institute of Stress, most American’s list job pressures, money, and health as the top causes of stress in their lives. Relationships, poor nutrition, and even media overload also appear atop that list. The APA also reports that 77% of people experience physical symptoms brought on by stress in their life and another 73% experience psychological symptoms.
Physical and Mental Results of Stress
Stress can take many forms, though most people report fatigue, headaches, upset stomach, and muscle tension as the most common effects. Stress, and especially chronic stress, can hasten to age, increase risks of heart disease, diabetes, dementia, cancer, and obesity.
Psychologically, many people list anger, irritability, feeling nervous, and lack of energy as common symptoms brought on by stress. Many different parts of the human body are affected by this condition; from the brain and nervous systems to the heart, stomach, muscles, joints, and even the reproductive system. In addition, people under stress are more likely to engage in unhealthy behavior such as abuse of drugs, alcohol, smoking, not exercising, and eating poorly.
Fight or Flight
Neurologists have demonstrated that stress is related to the “fight or flight” response that humans and other animals have developed evolutionarily to cope with threatening situations. Neurotransmitters are released from the adrenal medulla gland in our bodies in response to stress and lead to increased heart rates and alertness, protecting oneself from any hazards or predators.
Types of Stress
Small bits of stress, known as acute stress, are exciting and keep us alert and engaged. Think of the last time you had to present in front of a room full of people or got on stage. While a single instance of acute stress may not be harmful, severe acute stress can cause mental health issues such as PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) and sometimes result in physical problems like heart attacks and strokes.
Long term or chronic stress is when acute stress is not dealt with, and so it piles up or lasts for longer periods of time. Chronic stress occurs when your body and mind do not have time to relax and are constantly in a state of stress. Chronic stress can have very negative impacts on peoples’ long and short team health.
How to Manage Stress
A good goal to help mitigate stress is to identify what stresses are causing the most problems or taking the most of your attention in your life. To eliminate stress completely would be impossible, but knowing what triggers stress in your own life will help in dealing with its effects. Some ways to avoid stress include taking time to relax, spending time socializing with friends and family, being more active physically, and eating healthier meals