Stress: Reponse, consequences and how to manage it
Published 16 Feb 2021 • By Clémence Arnaud
Stress is a part of daily life and the way the body functions. However, when it turns into anxiety, becomes chronic or too much for an individual to handle, stress can lead to many different health conditions.
How does the stress response work? What are the symptoms of stress? How can we combat it?
We explain it all in our article!
Stress, a complex response:
We can identify three stages in the stress response:
- Alarm - this stage occurs when the individual recognises something as stressful, triggering a "fight-or-flight" response.
- Resistance - if the stress continues, the body will make an effort to cope with the stress and remain activated on high alert until it passes. The body cannot maintain this stage for long and its resources will gradually deplete.
- Exhaustion - sustained exposure to the stressor leads to this stage, where the body's resources are depleted and it cannot maintain normal function. If this stage is prolonged it can lead to long-term damage as the immune system is exhausted and bodily processes become impaired.
The stress response is triggered when our body is confronted with an external change or situation that requires the individual to adapt.
Source: Fondation April - Des stress et moi
This situation can be compared to a type of balance called homeostasis. When this equilibrium is disrupted, the body puts a number of processes in place to return the individual to his or her original and optimal state of balance.
From the onset of the alarm stage of stress, the body has new needs; it requires an increase in sugar and oxygen and sugar consumption to allow the organs to function optimally. To do this, the body produces hormones, such as norepinephrine and adrenaline. Another hormone, cortisol, is then secreted during the resistance stage to regulate the stress. When the body passes into the exhaustion stage, cortisol regulation is no longer effective and the consequences for the body begin at this point.
Different symptoms for different types of stress:
Stress can take different forms:
- Acute stress is in most cases a positive reaction for the body that allows it to adapt to the environment or situation. It usually manifests itself through accelerated heart rate, increased muscle tension, etc.
- Chronic stress can lead to numerous consequences on the body, including cardiovascular problems, sleep problems, mood disorders, etc.
- Post-traumatic stress is a very strong stress reaction following a traumatic event (an attack, an accident, etc.). It can have harmful long-term consequences for the individual if it is properly cared for.
- Oxidative stress is the result of countless external aggressions such as pollution, UV rays, blue light from screens, etc. It can also result from our lifestyle habits, such as an unhealthy diet, too much physical activity, alcohol consumption, etc.
Causes and consequences of stress on health:
The causes of stress are many and varied depending on the individual. For some, it can be fears linked to personality: fear of speaking public for a shy person, fear of the unexpected for someone who is organised, and so on. Most of the time, the acute stress caused by such situations is well managed.
Chronic stress stems from acute stress and can occur in many occasions. Nowadays many people suffer from stress at work, stress at school or social stress, which can be very detrimental in everyday life. These situations can lead to constant anxiety that is difficult for the individual to overcome. This stress can also have consequences on the mental, physical and psychological health of individuals with conditions such as depression, anxiety attacks or high blood pressure, for example. Skin conditions such as eczema, vitiligo or urticaria can also be linked to stress.
Post-traumatic stress manifests through post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD) or syndromes. Most often, it is triggered by flashbacks or nightmares related to the traumatic event, but it can also be set off by a place, a smell or a conversation reminiscent of the event. This post-traumatic stress can have consequences, particularly on mental health, with the development of depression or anxiety. It can also affect the physical health of the individual by leading to chronic fatigue, migraines and even conditions such as cardiovascular disease.
Oxidative stress can lead to the production of too many free radicals, known as reactive oxygen species (ROS). ROS are waste products generated as cells function. When they are present in too large quantities, the cells will no longer be able to eliminate them efficiently enough, which leads to cellular dysfunction and even cell death. This stress is thought to be at the origin of a number of bodily phenomena: ageing, male infertility and certain conditions such as cancer or Alzheimer's, though the link for some conditions is not yet clear.
Natural ways to limit stress:
There are many means and techniques available to control and combat stress, so it is important to find the personalised method that best suits each individual to reduce stress.
A very well-known method is the stress ball, which allows you to evacuate stress by exerting pressure on it. The repetitive movement of squeezing the ball can be calming as it keeps your hands busy, which eventually becomes automatic, allowing you to focus your stress or anxiety into it.
Other natural methods based on plants also exist: valerian, passionflower, hops and lemon balm are known for their sedative properties which help to fight anxiety, especially during sleep. They can be presented in different forms ranging from capsules to essential oils.
Exercise, meditation or the practice of a positive activity suited to one's interests is another way to fight stress. Art therapy is yet another stress management technique that is growing in popularity and comes in many forms such as colouring, relaxing music or dance. It can help one to regain self-confidence and to create something positive.
Anticipating stressful situations or preventing stress is possible by becoming familiar with and reacting to the signals our body gives us in stressful situations. Each person will have his or her own way of dealing with stress and transforming it into something positive.
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- Ipubli Inserm - Bases neurobiologiques et neuroendocriniennes du stress
- What is General Adaptation Syndrome? - Healthline
- Fondation April - Des stress et moi
- Inserm - Troubles du stress post-traumatique
- Médecine sciences - Espèces réactives de l'oxygène et stress oxydant
- Vidal - La phytothérapie dans le traitement de l'anxiété