Life would be simple indeed if our needs could always be satisfied. Stress is not new to human beings. It has existed throughout the evolution. Millions of trials and errors in the life process have brought human beings to this stage. We know that there are many obstacles in life which interfere with gratification of our needs and complicate our efforts towards our goals. We all face delays, deprivation, failures, losses, pressures, etc. such events place stress on us which may be very harmful for us. So, it becomes important for us to know the exact meaning of stress.
Stress consists of bodily changes produced by physiological or psychological conditions that tend to upset the homeostatic balance. In medical language ‘stress’ is defined as a perturbation of the body’s homeostasis. In simple words, stress is a condition or circumstance (not always adverse), which can disturb the normal physical and mental health of a person.
Most of the stress situations we face in everyday life are very minor and easy to cope with. For example, when we feel hungry, we may stop what we are doing and go to take a meal. We can meet such demands very easily. That is why we are not disturbed physiologically or psychologically. Generally, such type of stress is caused by physical stressors, such as diet, exercise, illness, noise and extremes of temperature etc. On the other hand, there are many stressors that affect our lives today which are cognitive in nature. These are called cognitive stressors. The stress caused by such stressors is difficult to cope with, such as divorce, losses, social disapproval and severe guilt feelings, etc.
These stressors occur as a result of an individual’s perception of an event. Along with the perception of an event, the effect of stress also depends on the intensity of stressor. In the same situation, one individual may interpret a stressor as non-stressor, another individual as a moderate stressor and yet another individual as a major stressor. So the effect of the stressor depends on the perception and intensity of the stressor. If the effect of a stressor is severe, it can cause severe health problems and in extreme cases it can even cause death. Generally, it causes headaches, eating disorders, allergies, insomnia, backaches, frequent cold, fatigue, hypertension, asthma, diabetes, heart ailments and cancer, etc. today, with the rapid diversification of human activity maximum number of adults are facing stress related problems.
In the situation of stress the brain prepares the body to take defensive action (the fight or flight response) by releasing stress hormones which are called cortisone and adrenaline. These hormones raise the blood pressure and the body prepares to react to the situation. This is called fight response. These hormones get used up in blood and finally effects of stress are reduced. When we fail to face a stressful situation, the hormones remain unused in the blood for a long time. It results in stress related physical symptoms, such as tense muscles, anxiety, dizziness and fast heartbeats. This state of accumulated stress can increase the risk of psychosomatic illness. It also weakens the immunity power of the body. It may lead to the loss of potassium, white blood cells and body weight of the person.
The effects of stress are not always negative but positive also. There are various instances of positive effects of stress. The un-achievable tasks can be achieved with positive stress. Experts say that stress in moderate doses is very significant as well as essential in our life. It can be used as the best defensive system of our body against outer and inner dangers. In case of accidents or sudden attack on life, body releases cortisone and adrenaline hormones that immediately make us more alert and our senses become more focused. Our body is also prepared to act with increased strength and speed in such a situation. It enables us to face the situation. Research performed in this field suggests that stress can increase our performance.