What is stress?
> 1/24/2006 12:14:11 PM

What is stress? Well, it is simply a reaction to situations, events, or people. Although we tend to view it as a bad thing, having some stress in your life is actually natural and good. It keeps your body and mind, active and more alert, and can provide increased motivation and drive and a sense of challenge and excitement.

However, it becomes harmful when you have too much stress, or more stress than you can cope with. Everyone at one time or another has experienced too much stress and we all know when we are experiencing it. When it becomes unmanageable, it can greatly affect how we think, feel, and act. Activities we once enjoyed become tasks we must complete in order to get to the next thing. We often feel tense sad, or angry. We may snap at our friends, family, or coworkers. We may get distracted from our work or not work as efficiently as usual.

Any of this sounding familiar?

Past research has shown that stress can increase a person's heart rate, and lower the immune system's ability to fight illnesses or infections. Further, a study in the November 2005 issue of Health Psychology found that for some people, cholesterol can rise with stress levels.

A 2004 Psychological Bulletin presented an examination of 20 years of research on the effects of stress on immunity and found a pattern for these effects. When faced with acute time-limited stressors - infrequent high stress events, such as a speech or getting married - prompts a “fight or flight” response and leads the immune system to enhance quick, energy-efficient natural immunity, to help the body meet the challenge. At the same time, certain immunity reactions that consume time and energy are suppressed.

Stressful event sequences - long-term high stress events with an end point, such as a loss of loved one or natural disaster - evoke different immune responses, dependant upon the type of event.

Most chronic stressors – long-term stressors with no foreseeable or predictable endpoint, such as chronic illness or caring for an ill loved one – can lead to feelings of being out of control and prompt a drop in almost all measures of immune function and could have the greatest psychological and physiological impact. With chronic stress over time, the immune system shifts to potentially detrimental changes, at first in cellular immunity and then in broader immune function.

The key to successfully decreasing the negative impact of stress in one’s life is less about seeking ways to eliminate the source of the stressful events, rather it is learning ways to handle stress as it arises. In other words, the long-term solution to manage stress is through developing and maintaining effective coping strategies.

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