I have been very stressed lately. My boss forces me to work till 8pm every night due to the year-end closing. Then at home, I have to take care of the baby as the babysitter does not work at night. I go to bed past midnight and I don’t have any time to relax. My weekends are spent doing chores and running errands. What is stress?
In the medical world, stress is considered a physical, mental or emotional factor that can cause you bodily or mental tension.
The particular stress you described is probably a combination of all three.
You are overworked, so that impacts your physical and mental wellbeing. All of it also impacts your emotional wellbeing, unfortunately, and that is why you are probably feeling miserable.
There are two major types of stress.
What are the types of stress?
There is external stress, meaning that the stressors come from the outside.
This can be from the environment, such as pollution, or being stuck in a traffic jam, or having to sleep in a noisy environment where your neighbour is blasting loud music at midnight.
The environment can also include stress from your family members – like your crying baby who refuses to be placated, or a spouse who keeps nagging at you, or a mother-in-law who is a “monster”-in-law!
External stressors can also be psychological or social. Cue said nagging mother-in-law!
Teenagers can derive a lot of stress if they are being bullied in school, for example, or when they are studying for a major exam.
Then there is internal stress, that comes from within your body. Many people overlook how much having a healthy body can impact your wellbeing.
Internal stress can come from an illness, or when you are having or recovering from a medical procedure like surgery.
Imagine being in pain all day from rheumatoid arthritis or undergoing chemotherapy as a cancer patient.
So, even if you choose to be a hermit and to get away from all external stress by living next to a beautiful lake, other sorts of stressors can get to you!
Stress is part of life and being alive. You can’t truly get away from it 100%, but you can learn to manage it.
Okay, I understand that having stress is a part of everyone’s life. But why is it needed? Why is it there in the first place?
Stress is completely necessary for mankind’s survival. In prehistoric times, stress initiates the “fight or flight” response.
Say you are a caveman and you suddenly encounter a woolly mammoth. What would you do?
Are you in a situation with a lot of external stress?
Now, this stress triggers a whole host of complex neurological and hormonal reactions in your body.
Your brain registers the stress and triggers nerves leading to your adrenal glands. This happens in a matter of seconds to minutes.
Your adrenal glands, located on top of your kidneys, release the hormones adrenaline and noradrenaline.
These two hormones prepare you for “fight or flight” by:
• Increasing your heart rate and breathing, so that your heart can pump more oxygen into your limbs (to get ready to run or attack!).
• Making you pale by constricting the small blood vessels in your skin. This diverts blood from the skin to the muscles, providing them with more energy and oxygen.
• Stops your stomach and intestines from digesting so that more blood flows into your muscles, also to provide the muscles with more energy and oxygen.
• Gets your liver to free up glucose and fat so that you can use them quickly to give you energy.
• Dilates the blood vessels to your muscles so that you can have quick energy and oxygen supply.
All this helps you run away from or fight – depending on your courage – the woolly mammoth. And hopefully, you live to see another day.
Of course, sometimes, too much adrenaline is released and you suffer from side effects like sweating, palpitations, excessive sweating and high blood pressure.
When this goes on for a long time, you will even lose weight, be anxious all the time and be unable to sleep well.
This should all disappear once the stressful event is over and your body goes back to its normal state.
But we are no longer cavemen!
Yes, but you still need to “fight or flee” other modern stressors.
You still need to survive from being overworked (you can take “flight” from a bad boss or job by quitting it, or “fight” it by complaining to the Human Resources Department), doing too many things at the same time, or being in the same house with a constantly nagging spouse (definitely “fight or flight!”).
You definitely need to “fight” an illness that is stressing you out by seeking a medical opinion and the necessary treatment for it.
So stress is still very much needed in today’s world. What we need to do is to better manage it before we are overwhelmed by adrenaline’s excessive side effects.