The very presence of life means that stress is also present. The recognition of and the reaction to stressors is fundamental to physical and emotional existence. Our reactions to stressors are either healthy, that is, adaptive, or unhealthy, that is, maladaptive. Maladaptive reactions to stress create physical and psychological damage, if either too large to withstand or too frequent to recover from. An example of an adaptive physiologic response is perspiring when the body temperature increases. This response becomes maladaptive, or harmful, when the body is not able to perspire or if the stress continues too long and bodily fluids are not replenished. Stressors may also be psychological or mental. Again, the reaction may be helpful or harmful. For most of us, the use of the term "stress" refers most often to the negative psychological or physiological responses to life's stimuli.
The original human need for a stress response was adaptive, called the "fight or flight" response. Typically, this response allowed us to engage a threat, such as an attacking animal. In modern Western society, the most common daily stressors are minor psychological events, such as an angry client on the telephone or the tension of driving in heavy traffic. Even these seemingly minor occurrences produce a low-level "fight or flight" reaction in the body. The cumulative or chronic occurrence of these mild stressors may not allow adequate or full recovery and results in many of modern society’s health problems.
The stress response causes the brain to release chemicals that stimulate the nervous system. Adrenalin is pumped into the bloodstream along with extra sugar and fat, from body stores, for energy to fuel muscles. Mental activity is focused, some organs slow their activity, while others are accelerated. The muscles tense up, the breathing rate increases, there may be tightness in the chest and queasiness in the stomach. In a high stress state, most of these reactions will be present. In a lower stress state only one or several may be present and in varying degrees.
Many believe that a healthy human body could be able to live as long as 120 years before organs gradually slow down and stop. Stress accelerates the decline by actually damaging some organs and accelerating the wear and tear on others. Stress may accelerate aging and cause heart disease, atherosclerosis, diabetes, arthritis, fatigue, immune problems, adjustment disorders and anxiety and depression, and many other problems, including cancer. Close to 70-80% of the problems seen by doctors are most likely caused by stress.
Some of the physiologic reactions to stress are: muscle tension, rapid heartbeat, sweaty palms, diarrhea or constipation, increased gastric acid, high blood pressure, increased adreanl hormones, exaggerated mental alertness, increased blood sugar, increased blood lipds, dry mouth, increased insulin, increased thyroid hormone and immune changes.
The physical problems that can result from stress are: insomnia, nervous irritability, headaches, atherosclerosis, hypertension, irritable bowel, gastritis, arrhythmias, panic attacks, anxiety, depression, fatigue, substance abuse, immune deficiencies, asthma, skin problems, allergies, muscle spasms, neuralgias, vision changes, hyperventilation, dehydration, sudden cardiac death, vasospasm, increased cholesterol, increased platelets, decreased oxygen, appetite problems, accelerated auto immune problems increased actually, miscarriages decreased libido, impotence, menstrual changes, disturbed memory, among others.