Stress is the body's reaction to harmful situations -- whether they’re real or perceived. When we feel threatened, a chemical reaction occurs in our body that allows us to act in a way to prevent injury. This reaction is known as "fight-or-flight,” or the stress response.
The body experiences a cascade of physical reactions, including:
An accelerated heartbeat.
Opening of lung airways to improve oxygen delivery.
Release of adrenaline to speed us up.
Release of glucose to power muscles.
Widened pupils to improve vision.
Lowered gastrointestinal activity so we can run, not digest.
Today, we rarely face a situation where we truly need to fight or flee. But our body still initiates the stress response in situations where there are no options for fighting or escaping: a traffic jam, a disagreeable boss or coworker, a looming deadline.
Indeed, stress symptoms can affect our body, our thoughts and feelings, and our behavior. Being able to recognize common stress symptoms can help us manage them. Stress that's left unchecked can contribute to many health problems, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and diabetes.
Common effects of stress:
On your body On your mood On your behavior
Headache Anxiety Overeating or undereating
Muscle tension or pain Restlessness Angry outbursts
Chest pain Lack of motivation or focus Drug or alcohol misuse
Fatigue Feeling overwhelmed Tobacco use
Change in sex drive Irritability or anger Social withdrawal
Stomach upset Sadness or depression Exercising less often
To manage stress:
If we have stress symptoms, taking steps to manage our stress can have many health benefits. Explore stress management strategies, such as:
Getting regular physical activity
Practicing relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, meditation, yoga, tai chi or massage
Keeping a sense of humor
Spending time with family and friends
Setting aside time for hobbies, such as reading a book or listening to music
Our aim should be to find active ways to manage our stress. Inactive ways to manage stress — such as watching television, surfing the internet or playing video games — may seem relaxing, but they may increase our stress over the long term and we have to be sure to get plenty of sleep and eat a healthy, balanced diet We have to avoid tobacco use, excess caffeine and alcohol, and the use of illegal substances.