What is stress?

Have you ever felt so overwhelmed, whether it be a university deadline or just the general demands of day-to-day life? If yes, you’ve probably experienced stress.

When people think of stress they think of it being a negative part of life when in fact it’s a natural process the body goes through to protect us from danger and helps us cope with the demands of living.

When we face danger we have a choice, do we confront the danger, or run from it? This is known as the ‘Fight or Flight’ response. During stressful situations, a reaction occurs in the brain causing a release of hormones such as ACTH, epinephrine and cortisol.

The release of cortisol is behind many of the changes that occur during stress such as an increase in blood pressure, blood sugar and heart rate whilst also supressing the immune system.

  • When we face danger we have a choice, do we confront the danger, or run from it? This is known as the ‘Fight or Flight’ response.
    Click on image for more info

The aim is to boost energy systems to prepare the body for a physical reaction, which is increased further by epinephrine binding to liver cells to increase production of glucose, an important energy source.

There are various symptoms associated with stress such as:

  • Palpitations (awareness of own heartbeat which also can be increased)
  • Increased sweating
  • Heightened alertness
  • Upset stomach
  • Muscle aches and twitches
  • We can also experience emotional reactions because of stress such as anxiety, depression, restlessness and anger outbursts.

    As stress is a natural process, there is no perfect treatment to prevent it but there are ways to effectively manage how it presents itself such as:

  • Exercise
  • Reduced alcohol, drug and caffeine intake
  • Breathing and relaxation techniques
    • One effective way of preventing emotional reactions from stress is to reduce caffeine drug and alcohol intake.
      Click on image for more info

    So overall, stress is a natural part of life however, it is important to acknowledge the signs and seek help when needed.

    References

    Sophie Simmonds Fourth Year Medical Student, Cardiff University.

    Milad Rouf Final Year Medical Student, Cardiff University.

    Milosevic, I., 2015. Fight-or-Flight Response. Phobias: The Psychology of Irrational Fear: The Psychology of Irrational Fear, 196, p.179.

    Padgett, D.A. and Glaser, R., 2003. How stress influences the immune response. Trends in immunology, 24(8), pp.444-448.