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Stress is the body and mind's response to challenging situations or demands. Stress can manifest in physical, mental, or emotional responses. These responses can include muscle tension, anxiety, and difficulties with sleep. Many techniques can help reduce stress, including regular physical activity, connecting with friends and family, and setting boundaries.

Stress Explained

Stress is a common experience in modern-day busy lifestyles, and stress's mental and physical implications surpass simply being overwhelmed or anxious.

Stress is a natural physical and emotional response to life's challenges. Whether it's a looming deadline at work, relationship struggles, or health concerns, everyone is likely to experience stress at some point.

It is vital to understand stress because stress significantly affects one’s well-being and can compromise mental and physical health.

At its core, stress is the body's reaction to any changes that require an adjustment or response. 

It's the feeling one gets when faced with unfamiliar, challenging, or threatening situations. This reaction can be physical, mental, or emotional.

But not all stress is the same: there is both acute stress and chronic stress.

Acute vs. Chronic Stress

When the body faces stress or a threatening situation, the body reacts with what is known as the stress response. 

The stress response is also called the fight or flight response and is regulated by the sympathetic nervous system.  

Acute stress describes short-term stress that comes on quickly and usually disappears just as fast. This type of stress one typically feels right before giving a public speech or narrowly avoiding a collision while driving.

Chronic stress is a type of stress that lingers for more extended periods. This type of stress is usually caused by ongoing stressful situations such as financial worries, long-term health problems, or relationship difficulties. If not addressed quickly, chronic stress can lead to health problems.

Causes of Stress

common causes of stress

Numerous factors can contribute to stress. Sometimes, the causes of stress can be evident, such as a significant life event, and other times, it might be more subtle pressures of daily life that accumulate over time. Some significant stressors include: 

  • Significant life changes, even positive ones like a wedding or a new baby, can lead to stress 
  • Losing a job
  • Divorce
  • The death of a loved one

Day-to-day stressors such as being stuck in traffic jams, work pressures, or juggling family responsibilities can be consistent sources of stress.

Environmental factors also play a role in the accumulation of stress. Excessive noise, overcrowding, and pollution can contribute to elevated stress levels.

Personal factors can also significantly contribute to stress, such as insecurities, fears, or memories of traumatic events can trigger stress, even if they aren't immediately relevant.

Facing a serious health condition, either personally or within the family, can lead to elevated stress.

Stress Hormones: The Body's Alarm System

Stress hormones are released into the body when confronted with perceived threats or challenges. Stress hormones are crucial in our body's immediate response to these threats.

The adrenal glands produce stress hormones, primarily cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones prepare our body to face threats, often called the "fight or flight" response.


Adrenaline is considered the initial responder of the hormones. 

When a stressful event occurs, adrenaline increases our heart rate, elevates our blood pressure, and boosts energy supplies. 

Adrenaline is responsible for the racing heart, sweating palms, and increased breathing rate experienced when confronted with a stressful situation.


Often labeled as the primary stress hormone, cortisol increases sugars in the bloodstream, enhances the brain's use of glucose, and increases the availability of substances that repair tissues. 

Additionally, cortisol decreases nonessential functions, like the digestive and reproductive systems, and communicates with the brain to modulate mood and motivation.

Importance of Stress Hormones

In the short term, these stress hormones are useful and essential. They prepare our bodies to face immediate threats, ensuring that the body is alert and ready to act. 

However, when under long-term stress, these hormones are continually released due to chronic stress; they can wreak havoc on nearly every system in our body. 

Long-term exposure to cortisol and other stress hormones can disrupt almost all our body's processes, increasing the risk of numerous health issues, from heart disease and weight gain to a weakened immune system.

Balancing Hormones

While most people cannot eliminate stress, managing stress levels is crucial.

By naturally managing stress, one can balance their hormones, allowing them to aid us in times of need without letting them overwhelm our system.

Understanding stress hormones helps clarify why managing stress is about mental well-being and safeguarding one’s physical health. It's a delicate balance, but with awareness and proactive measures, one can achieve this balance.

Symptoms and Signs of Stress

Recognizing the signs of stress is the first step to managing it. While everyone reacts to stress differently, there are common physical, emotional, and behavioral signs to watch out for:

Physical Symptoms

There are many physical symptoms of stress, including acute and chronic ones. Some acute symptoms of stress include:

  • Rapid breathing
  • Chest pain
  • High blood pressure
  • Increased heart rate

Some symptoms of chronic stress include: 

  • Muscle tension
  • Headaches
  • Upset stomach
  • Digestive problems

Emotional Symptoms

Some emotional symptoms of stress include feeling overwhelmed or constantly worried, irritability or mood swings, and difficulty concentrating or making decisions.

Chronic stress can cause symptoms such as anxiety, panic attacks, depression, or isolation.

Behavioral Symptoms

Some behavioral symptoms of stress include appetite changes, such as not eating or overeating.

People undergoing a lot of stress may begin procrastinating or avoiding responsibilities. Some people may use alcohol, cigarettes, or drugs to cope.

Chronic stress can also cause altered sleep patterns, such as developing insomnia or oversleeping.

These behavioral symptoms can significantly challenge one’s mental and physical health. When one notices these symptoms, taking a step back and evaluating the root cause of these behaviors is beneficial. 

While it's normal to experience stress occasionally, constant or extreme stress poses many physical and mental health problems.

Effects of Prolonged Stress

There are significant effects when stress becomes a constant in someone's life. Prolonged exposure to such stress can profoundly affect their mental and physical health.

Physical Health Impacts

Stress can have negative impacts on a person's nervous system. When an individual experiences stress, their body becomes flooded with stress hormones. 

As time passes, this heightened hormonal activity can result in complications within the nervous system and a state of constant alertness, ultimately leading to the exhaustion of the body's resources.

Chronic stress can negatively impact heart health as it can cause chronic high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, which can increase the risk of heart attacks or strokes.

Continuous stress weakens the immune system, making the body susceptible to infections and illnesses.

Stress can affect the digestive system and result in stomachaches, nausea, or severe conditions like ulcers and irritable bowel syndrome.

Chronic stress affects the libido and causes other reproductive issues for both men and women.

In men, persistent stress can decrease testosterone levels, which may result in reduced sexual desire. Similarly, in women, ongoing stress can disrupt hormonal balance, leading to irregular menstrual cycles and potential difficulties with fertility.

Mental Health Impacts

Constant stress is a primary factor in developing or exacerbating anxiety disorders and depression. 

The prolonged activation of the body's stress response systems can disrupt neurotransmitter balance and alter brain chemistry, significantly increasing the vulnerability to these mental health conditions.

Stress can also lead to mental exhaustion, making daily tasks feel insurmountable and negatively impacting a person’s daily functioning.

Stress can also lead to irritability, which can strain relationships with family, friends, and colleagues.

Stress Management Techniques

Stress management is about more than just finding ways to relax. It's about establishing routines, setting boundaries, and adopting healthy habits to maintain a balanced life.

By taking proactive measures to reduce stress now, one can reduce the harmful effects of stress and enhance our ability to handle life's challenges.

To effectively manage stress, individuals need first to recognize its sources. Once they have identified what is causing their stress, they can begin addressing it.

For some, this might mean reorganizing work schedules or setting limits on commitments. For others, it might involve seeking support from friends, family members, or professionals.

Physical Activity

Engaging in physical activity serves as a potent stress reliever. Whether opting for a brisk walk, practicing yoga, or participating in a rigorous workout, individuals can release accumulated tension and enhance their mood by moving their bodies. Some physical activities that provide stress relief include: 

  • Walking: Walking helps clear the mind and lower stress levels, especially in natural surroundings.
  • Running or Jogging: Participating in aerobic exercises like running or jogging releases endorphins, natural mood lifters.
  • Yoga: Practicing yoga involves entering certain positions and movements, breathing exercises, and mindfulness, which promotes relaxation and stress reduction.
  • Pilates: Like yoga, Pilates focuses on controlled movements and breathing to relieve stress and improve flexibility.
  • Tai Chi: Engaging in the practice of Tai Chi, with its slow and controlled movements, promotes relaxation and balance.
  • Strength Training: Participating in activities such as lifting weights or using resistance bands helps reduce stress by promoting the release of endorphins and building physical resilience


Ensuring one gets adequate sleep can strengthen their body's resilience against stress.

Sleep plays a crucial role in physical and mental recovery, allowing the body to repair and rest and for the brain to process emotions, thoughts, and information from the day.

Consistently receiving enough sleep can improve mood, enhance cognitive function, and provide the emotional and physical stamina needed to cope with life’s challenges effectively.


Alongside exercise, practices like deep breathing, meditation, and mindfulness can be helpful techniques for coping with stress. These techniques help calm the mind and reduce stress and anxiety disorder symptoms.

Deep breathing exercises, such as diaphragmatic breathing, can activate the body's relaxation response, lowering heart rate and decreasing muscle tension.

Meditation encourages focused attention and increased awareness, which can help people to detach from stressors and find mental clarity.

Mindfulness involves being fully present in the moment without judgment, allowing individuals to observe their thoughts and emotions without becoming overwhelmed.

Individuals should be quick to seek professional help if they feel stressed. Therapists, counselors, and other professionals can offer tailored tools and strategies to manage stress effectively.


The effects of chronic stress on health: new insights into the molecular mechanisms of brain-body communication - PMC

Deciphering the role of physical activity in stress management during a global pandemic in older adult populations: a systematic review protocol

Chronic Stress > Fact Sheets > Yale Medicine

Understanding the stress response - Harvard Health


Mindfulness Is Associated With Lower Stress and Higher Work Engagement in a Large Sample of MOOC Participants


The contents of this article are provided for informational purposes only and are not intended to substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. It is always recommended to consult with a qualified healthcare provider before making any health-related changes or if you have any questions or concerns about your health. Anahana is not liable for any errors, omissions, or consequences that may occur from using the information provided.

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