What is stress?
It has been estimated that 70 – 90 percent of visits to primary doctors are for stress-related issues. The adult’s leading source of stress is jobs, but stress levels have also escalated in children, teenagers, college students, and seniors for reasons including: increased crime, violence, and other threats to personal safety (as even seen in Sun City due to its recent spree of home invasions).
Stress also abounds in the continued growth in social isolation and loneliness (as discussed in one of my previous articles), the erosion of family and religious values and ties, the peer pressures that lead to substance abuse and other unhealthy life-style habits, and the loss of other strong sources of social support that are powerful stress busters.
All one needs to do is turn on the TV and be bombarded by negative stories of terrorist threats, financial problems, and natural disasters to find stress all around us. Add to this layoffs, money woes, driving rage, and traffic jams and you see that stress is an inescapable part of life. At any given time, one out of 10 people is over-stressed.
Stress is any change in your normal routine or health. It is a normal physical response to events that make you feel threatened or upset your body’s balance in some way. When bad things happen, as in when you sense danger – whether it is real or imagined – the body’s defenses kick into high gear in a rapid, automatic process called “fight or flight” reaction, or the stress response. The stress response is the body’s way of protecting you. When working properly, it helps you stay focused, energetic, and alert, improving your performance and efficiency.
In emergency cases, stress can save your life, giving you super strong powers physically to defend yourself or spurring you to slam on the brakes to avoid an accident. When good things happen, the stress response helps you to rise to meet challenges. It helps you to make that move into a new house or aids you in planning a child’s wedding. Stress is what keeps you on your toes for that athletic competition or play or recital you are involved in.
The sort of stress you encounter, how you perceive it, and how you react to it depend on individual factors, such as:
1. Gender: Women are more likely than men to experience ongoing stress, partly because of family and social responsibilities, while men report more financial pressure.
2. Age: Major life events and physical problems – such as the death of a spouse or a serious illness – can cause stress as people age. Changing financial situations, making wills, and planning for one’s future also produce stressful situations in our “Golden Years.”
3. Work: Whether you are still working full- or part-time, work is a huge source of stress with its deadline demands, layoff worries, and demand for ever-changing technological skills.
4. Care giving: People who provide care for friends and loved ones often experience stress caused by exhaustion, anger, guilt, and other difficult emotions. Part 5 in this series will discuss stress and senior caregivers.
Each individual may react differently to a similar stress in life. In other words, what becomes a stressful happening to one person may be completely overlooked by his/her friend. You may have already noticed and questioned, in fact, how some people seem to “roll with the punches” while others crumble at the slightest obstacle or frustration.
Some individuals even seem to thrive on the excitement and challenge of a high-stress lifestyle. Your ability to tolerate stress depends on many factors, including the quality of your relationships, your general outlook on life, your emotional intelligence, and genetics.
Part 2 (next week): what are stressors?