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Facts About Stress

What is stress?

Stress may be considered as any physical, chemical, or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental tension and that may be a factor in disease causation. Physical and chemical factors that can cause stress include trauma, infections, toxins, illnesses, and injuries of any sort. Emotional causes of stress and tension are numerous and varied. While many people associate the term "stress" with psychological stress, scientists and physicians use this term to denote any force that impairs the stability and balance of bodily functions.

If stress disrupts body balance and function, then is all stress bad?

Not necessarily. A mild degree of stress and tension can sometimes be beneficial. Feeling mildly stressed when carrying out a project or assignment often compels us to do a good job and to work energetically.

Likewise, exercising can produce a temporary stress on some body functions, but its health benefits are indisputable. It is only when stress is overwhelming, or poorly managed, that its negative effects appear.

The goal of this site is to provide resources to help you manage the stresses in your life. Notice that we do not speak of elimination or even reduction of stress, because stress is a part of normal life. It's impossible to completely eliminate stress, and it would not be advisable to do so. Instead, we can learn to manage stress so that we have control over our stress and its effects on our physical and mental health.

Who is most susceptible to stress?

Stress comes in all forms and affects persons of all ages and all walks of life. No external standards can be applied to predict stress levels in individuals - one need not have a traditionally stressful job to experience workplace stress, just as a parent of one child may experience more parental stress than a parent of several children. The degree of stress in our lives is highly dependent upon individual factors such as our physical health, the quality of our interpersonal relationships, the number of commitments and responsibilities we carry, the degree of others' dependence upon and expectations of us, the amount of support we receive from others, and the number of changes or traumatic events that have recently occurred in our lives.

Some generalizations, however, can be made. Persons with adequate social support networks report less stress and overall improved mental health in comparison to those without these social contacts. Persons who are poorly nourished, who get inadequate sleep, or who are physically unwell also have reduced capabilities to handle pressures and stresses of everyday life and may report higher stress levels. Some stressors are particularly associated with certain age groups or life stages. Children, teens, working parents and seniors are examples of the groups who often face common stressors related to life transitions.

What are the symptoms of excess stress?

Manifestations of excess or poorly-managed stress can be extremely varied. While many persons report that stress induces headaches, sleep disturbances, feelings of anxiety or tension, anger, or concentration problems, others may complain of depression, lack of interest in food, increased appetite, or any number of other symptoms. In severe situations one can experience overwhelming stress to the point of so-called burnout, with loss of interest in normal activities. Since research has shown that high levels of stress are known to exert a negative influence on our immune systems and other medical conditions, stressed individuals can experience frequent colds or other infections and illnesses. These symptoms might not be easily recognized as being stress-related.

Are there tools to help me rate and evaluate my stress levels?

Numerous self-assessment systems to evaluate the amount of stress, hidden stress, and potential for stress in our lives are available. You can also test your knowledge of stress with several quizzes exclusive to the Stress Management site. These can help you begin thinking about and evaluating your overall stress level.

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