The word stress has many connotations and definitions. For example, in Eastern cultures, it means the lack of inner peace, whereas in the West it is considered the loss of control. Dr. Hans Selye, a Hungarian-Canadian endocrinologist, was one of the first researchers to come up with the notion of stress for humans, in the 1960s. He noticed that people react in different ways when dealing with life events such as divorce, death in the family, loss of a job, and so on. Seeing the physiological responses to those life events, he concluded that the body’s responses happen in a three-step process, which he called the general adaptation syndrome (GAS). The first stage is the alarm reaction, the second is the stage of resistance, and the last is the stage of exhaustion. The term stress has evolved its definition since then. According to Seaward (2018), the current definition of stress is “the inability to cope with a perceived (real or imagined) threat to one’s mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being, which results in a series of physiological responses and adaptations.”
Because the word stress became so popular and has different connotations, it seems to be something common and normal, which is true and false at the same time. Most people don’t know there are three different types of stress:
1- Eustress is good stress. It motivates the individual to take action, to be dynamic and pro-active. It has pleasant and exciting effects, such as falling in love. Which, in turn, causes a short-term alarm response and its duration is limited.
2- Neustress is considered neither good nor bad because the perceived stimuli have no consequences in the human physiology.
3- Distress is known as bad stress. It fully initiates the fight-or-flight response and may have a prolonged impact on a person’s life and well-being. (Eliopoulos, 2017).
Also, there are two categories of stress: short-term stress (when an animal crosses in front of the car while you are driving) and long-term stress (hours, days, months, and even years living in a stressful situation, such as a loss of a dear one or a job).
Normally, when people refer themselves by being stressed or dealing with stress, they are talking about distress, which is long-term stress that can cause many physiological and psychological symptoms and ailments. According to Seaward (2018), with long-term stress, the individual can experience chronic pain, headaches, osteoporosis, gastrointestinal distress, constipation or diarrhea, weight loss or gain, immune system disturbance (frequent flu, colds, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, scleroderma, or even cancer), fatigue, sleep disturbances, mood instability, hypertension, elevated blood lipid levels, changes in eating, drinking, or smoking behaviors, dizziness, irritability, depression, restlessness, heightened sensitivity to stimuli, poor impulse control, substance abuse, muscle tension, skin disorders, teeth grinding, panic attacks, difficulty thinking, concentrating, or remembering things, social withdrawal, and changes in the quality of relationships. Any symptom or a combination of them doesn’t indicate the person is dealing with long-term stress, but it can be an indicator of a need for a lifestyle change.
Stress affects the whole body, but mainly the following:
- The Autonomic Nervous System
- The Endocrine System
- The Immune System
- The Cardiovascular System
- Gastrointestinal System
The conclusion is that even though the word stress potentially became a cliché, its consequences are not. Stress has deep, long-lasting effects on human physiology, psychology, and behaviors. It should be taken seriously and treated with care and love.
Koopsen, C., Young, C., Integrative Health – A Holistic Approach for Health Professionals, 2009