Have you ever worried about something too much that you ended up with a terrible headache? Or have you gotten home feeling sick after dealing with a very bad day at the workplace? We’ve all been there. Every day, we deal with a number of stressors that cause the release of stress hormones in our body. Some of the examples of these stressors are challenging events, major life changes, and environment stressors. While stress is a natural response of the human body, we sometimes fail to realise that unbalanced stress can eventually lead to chronic and life-threatening illnesses such as cancer, high-blood pressure, stroke, heart attacks, and serious mental conditions.
What is Stress?
Stress is the body’s natural reaction to perceived or actual threat. Selye (1956) defined stress as the effect of anything that seriously threatens homeostasis or the state of maintaining our environment in a stable state. Stress is an essential part of human survival where the fight-or-flight mechanism in the brain was programmed to tell the body when and how to respond to a danger.
There are two types of stress– the Good Stress or what the psychologists refer to as Eustress, and the Bad Stress. Eustress motivates and helps an individual to move forward and achieve more goals. This is also the type of stress that makes people feel excited or when you get “butterflies” in your stomach and the palms of your hands get sweaty. On the other hand, Bad Stress hinders progress and could cause serious mental and physical health issues. A stressful workplace, bad environment, failed relationships, or an unhappy home can bring chronic bad stress. In result, the body would respond to the Bad Stress in the form of low energy, inability to complete tasks, body aches, headaches, irritability, changes in appetite, having troubles falling asleep, and more.
Statistic on Stress
Stress has become a “world wide epidemic” that the World Health Organization (WHO) has dubbed Stress as The Health Epidemic of the 21st Century” in 2016. Numerous studies show that job-related stress is the top major source of stress in the United States of America. Meanwhile, a recent global survey of 1,000 corporations across 15 countries done by The Regus Group revealed that the levels of workplace stress have risen over the last two years.
In 2015, the result of The Australian Psychological Society (APS) revealed that younger people aged 18-25 reported low levels of well-being than older Australians. Other key findings show that 35% of Australians report having a significant level of distress in their lives while financial issues are rated as the top cause of stress over the five years. Additionally, 72% or majority of the Australians feel that stress is having at least some impact on their physical health while 64% believe that stress is having an impact on their mental health. These results are consistent on the past studies which indicate that stress has a harmful effect on both physical and mental health.
How stress affects all Organ Systems?
Stress affects all organ systems in the body specifically the endocrine system, immune system, musculoskeletal system, and gut health. When the body is under stress, stress hormones such as cortisol and epinephrine are released by the body in situations that are interpreted by the hypothalamus, a certain part of the brain, as being potentially dangerous. Elevated Cortisol, the stress hormone, interferes with learning, memory, immune function, and more. Stress and elevated Cortisol also increase the risk for mental health illnesses such as anxiety and depression. These stress hormones also act by mobilising energy from storage to muscles, increasing heart rate, blood pressure and breathing rate and shutting down metabolic processes such as digestion, reproduction, growth and immunity.
However, thanks to our brain, there are also hormones that help elevate happiness. These are called the Happy Hormones: