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Overview of stress

Even though stress is present at some point in life of every human being, people find it difficult to describe. There are many different definitions of stress present in the literature. “The stress reaction is a natural response to fear or uncertainty” (Adamo R., 2012). According to NHS (2010), stress is the feeling of being under too much mental or emotional pressure. When we are hopeless and cannot cope with the situation then pressure turns into stress. When we are stressed we are no longer able to react positively to pleasant or amusing events. Stress can be divided into eustress and distress.

Eustress is a healthy type of stress that gives a person a positive feeling of fulfilment (Wikipedia, 2012). Distress is an aversive state in which a person is unable to adapt to stressors and their resulting stress, and consequently shows maladaptive behaviours (Wikipedia, 2012). This may involve inappropriate social interaction, for example aggression, passivity or withdrawal.

Stress in everyday life arises because the hypothalamus in natural response to uncertainty stimulates the endocrine system to secrete chemical substances and prepare the body for “flight or fight” response (Adamo R., 2012). Chronic stress is caused by an on-going uncertainty and worries for longer period of time. The example of situations that can cause chronic stress include carrying for adults, being ill for a long period of time, on-going money-related worries, unsuccessful relationship or continuing unemployment, discrimination or loneliness. Benson believed that “stress is an environmental condition that requires behavioural adjustment” (Adamo R., 2012). Holmes and Rahe (1967) carried out research to measure the level of stress in case of different triggering events.

Nevertheless, people have different ways of reacting to the same level of stress, so a situation that feels stressful to one person may in fact be motivating to another. Overall, being in control of life and the situation is helpful, as well as detachment and getting things in perspective.

“Flight or fight” response is an involuntary response to threat or danger priming for fighting or fleeing. The sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system initiates the “flight or fight response”. The hypothalamus asses the danger and instructs the sympathetic system to stimulate the endocrine system to release chemicals in preparation for this strenuous physical response. In other word, the hypothalamus stimulates the pituitary to release the Adrenocorticotropic Hormone (ACTH). ACTH triggers the adrenal glands to release chemicals including adrenaline and cortisol (Adamo R., 2012). Cortisol stimulates the breakdown of proteins to form glucose needed to fuel the muscles and reduces the number of white blood cells suppressing the allergic reactions (Adamo, 2012). Adrenal gland discharges adrenaline which increases the heart rate, levels sugar and fat in the blood, stimulates the nervous system, heightens muscles tone and directs the blood towards the muscles (Adamo R., 2012). Released hormones induce thyroid to increase the metabolism and raise the level of glucose in the blood.

The chemicals keep preparing the nervous system, muscles and organs including bowels to deal with threat for as long as they are present in the system. The continuity of stress causes inappropriate triggering of the glands. Lack of rest and recovery due to the secretion of adrenaline, as well as a slow healing process and decreased resistance to infections resulting from the presence of cortisol, leave the body vulnerable to disease. Consequently, the person is exposed to a higher risk of suffering from high blood pressure, tumours, ulcers and infections (Adamo R., 2012). Other stress-related effects involve sweating and sleeping disorders. Chronic stress leads to faulty breathing patterns, high blood pressure, digestive problems, hyperactivity and irritability (Adamo R., 2012).