Stress can serve an important purpose and can even help you survive. For our ancestors, stress was a helpful motivator for survival, allowing them to avoid real physical threats. That’s because it makes your body think it’s in danger, and triggers that “fight-or-flight” survival mode. 

Fight-or-flight mode refers to all the chemical changes that go on in your body to get it ready for physical action. In some cases, these changes can also make you freeze. While this stress response can still help us survive dangerous situations, it’s not always an accurate response and it’s usually caused by something that’s not actually life-threatening. That’s because our brains can’t differentiate between something that’s a real threat and something that’s a perceived threat. When you encounter a stressor -- whether it’s an angry bear or an unreasonable deadline -- a chain of events kicks off in your brain. First, the Amygdala, an area of your brain that processes emotion, gets information about the stressor through your senses. If it interprets that information as something threatening or dangerous, it sends a signal to your brain’s command center, known as the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus connects to the rest of your body through the autonomic nervous system. This controls automatic functions like your heartbeat and breathing through two different systems: the sympathetic and the parasympathetic. The sympathetic nervous system triggers the fight-or-flight response, giving you the energy you need to respond to a threat. The parasympathetic does the opposite; it allows your body to go into “rest and digest” mode so that you can feel calm when things are safe. When your hypothalamus gets a signal from your amygdala that you’re in danger, it sends signals to the adrenal glands and activates your sympathetic nervous system. The adrenals pump out adrenaline, causing your heart to beat faster, forcing more blood into your muscles and organs. Your breathing might also quicken, and your senses might get sharper. Your body will also release sugar into your bloodstream, sending energy to all different parts..

EFFECT OF STRESS ON BODY

All of these chemical changes have Short-term and Long-term effects on almost every system in your body.

Musculoskeletal system:   

Short term : Your muscles tense up suddenly and then release when the stressor is gone

Long term : If your muscles are always tense, you can develop problems like tension headaches and      migraines, as well as other chronic pains.  

Respiratory system  

Short term: You breathe harder and faster, and can even hyperventilate, which can cause panic attacks in some people.  

Long term: If you have asthma or emphysema, breathing hard can make it difficult to get enough      oxygen.   

Cardiovascular system   

Short term: Your heart beats harder and faster and your blood vessels dilate, pushing more blood into your large muscles and raising your blood pressure.  

Long term: Consistently elevated heart rate, blood pressure, and stress hormones can increase your odds of heart attack, stroke, and hypertension. These can also affect cholesterol levels and cause inflammation in your circulatory system.  

Endocrine system   

Short term: Stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol give your body energy to either fight or run away from a stressor. Your liver also produces more blood sugar to give your body energy.  

Long term: Some people don’t reabsorb the extra blood sugar that their liver pumps out, and they may be     more likely to develop type 2 diabetes. Overexposure to cortisol can lead to thyroid problems and affect your ability to think clearly. It can also cause excess abdominal fat. 

In men, chronic stress can also affect sperm and testosterone production, and cause erectile dysfunction and infections in the testes, prostate, or urethra. 

In women, chronic stress can worsen PMS, cause changes in the menstrual cycle, and missed periods. It can also aggravate symptoms of menopause and decrease sexual desire.  

Gastrointestinal system   

Short term: You may feel butterflies in your stomach, pain, or nausea, or might even vomit. Your      appetite can change and you can have diahorea, constipation, or heartburn.  

Long term: Stress can lead to severe chronic pain and changes in your eating habits. You can also develop acid reflux. 

Stress symptoms may be affecting your health, even though you might not realize it. You may think illness is to blame for that nagging headache, your frequent insomnia or your decreased productivity at work. But stress may actually be the culprit .Common effects of stress Indeed, stress symptoms can affect your body, your thoughts and feelings, and your behavior. Being able to recognize common stress symptoms can give you a jump on managing them.

Stress that's left unchecked can contribute to many health problems, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and diabetes.

Common effects of stress on your body

  • Headache      
  • Muscle tension or pain        
  • Chest pain      
  • Fatigue    
  • Change-in sex drive        
  • Stomach upset        
  • Sleep problems

Common effects of stress on your mood       

  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Lack of motivation or focus        
  • Feeling over whelmed       
  • Irritability or anger        
  • Sadness or depression

Common effects of stress on your behavior      

  • Overeating or under eating      
  • Angry outbursts       
  • Drug or alcohol abuse        
  • Tobacco use     
  • Social withdrawal     

If you have stress symptoms, taking steps to manage your stress can have numerous health benefits. Explore stress management strategies, such as:·

  • Regular physical activity      
  • Relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, meditation, 
  • Yoga, Tai chi 
  • Getting a massage    
  • Keeping a sense of humor     
  • Socializing with family and friends     
  • Setting aside time for hobbies, such as reading a book or listening to music
  • Aim to find active ways to manage your stress. 

Inactive ways you may use to manage stress — such as watching television, surfing the Internet or playing video games — may seem relaxing, but they may increase your stress over the long term. And be sure to get plenty of sleep and eat a healthy, balanced diet.

Avoid tobacco use, excess caffeine and alcohol intake, and the use of illicit substances.

When to seek help

If you're not sure if stress is the cause or if you've taken steps to control your stress but your symptoms continue, see your doctor. Your doctor may want to check for other potential causes. Or, consider seeing a professional counsellor or therapist, who can help you identify sources of your stress and learn new coping tools. Also, if you have chest pain, especially if it occurs during physical activity or is accompanied by shortness of breath, sweating, dizziness, nausea, or pain radiating into your shoulder and arm, get emergency help immediately. These may be warning signs of a heart attack and not simply stress symptoms.

WORKPLACE FACTORS CAUSING STRESS

The work place is an important source of both demands and pressures causing stress, and structural and social resources to counteract stress.The workplace factors that have been found to be associated with stress and health risks can be categorized as those to do with the content of work and those to do with the social and organizational context of work.

 Those that are intrinsic to the job include long hours, work overload, time pressure, difficult or complex tasks, lack of breaks, lack of variety, and poor physical work conditions (for example, space, temperature, light). Unclear work or conflicting roles and boundaries can cause stress, as can having responsibility for people. The possibilities for job development are important buffers against current stress, with under promotion, lack of training, and job insecurity being stressful. There are two other sources of stress, or buffers against stress: relationships at work, and the organisational culture. 

Managers who are critical, demanding, unsupportive or bullying create stress, whereas a positive social dimension of work and good team working reduces it. 

An organisational culture of unpaid overtime or “presenteeism” causes stress. On the other hand, a culture of involving people in decisions, keeping them informed about what is happening in the organisation, and providing good amenities and recreation facilities reduce stress. Organisational change, especially when consultation has been inadequate, is a huge source of stress. Such changes include mergers, relocation, restructuring or “downsizing”, individual contracts, and redundancies within the organisation.

INDIVIDUAL DIFFERENCE

Individuals differ in their risk of experiencing stress and in their vulnerability to the adverse effects of stress. Individuals are more likely to experience stress if they lack material resources (for example, financial security) and psychological resources (for example, coping skills, self esteem), and are more likely to be harmed by this stress if they tend to react emotionally to situations and are highly competitive and pressured (type A behaviour).

A successful strategy for preventing stress within the workplace will ensure that the job fits the person, rather than trying to make people fit jobs that they are not well suited to.

INTERACTIONS BETWEEN WORK AND HOME STRESS

Increasingly, the demands on the individual in the workplace reach out into the homes and social lives of employees. Long, uncertain or unsocial hours, working away from home, taking work home, high levels of responsibility, job insecurity, and job relocation all may adversely affect family responsibilities and leisure activities. This is likely to undermine a good and relaxing quality of life outside work, which is an important buffer against the stress caused by work.In addition, domestic pressures such as childcare responsibilities, financial worries, bereavement, and housing problems may affect a person's robustness at work. Thus, a vicious cycle is set up in which the stress caused in either area of one's life, work or home, spills over and makes coping with the other more difficult. Women are especially likely to experience these sources of stress, since they still carry more of the burden of childcare and domestic responsibilities than men. In addition, women are concentrated in lower paid, lower status jobs, may often work shifts in order to accommodate domestic responsibilities, and may suffer discrimination and harassment.

INDIVIDUAL STRESS MANAGEMENT

Most interventions to reduce the risk to health associated with stress in the workplace involve both individual and organisational approaches. Individual approaches include training and one-to-one psychology services—clinical, occupational, health or counselling. They should aim to change individual skills and resources and help the individual change their situation. 

Techniques for managing stress: Training helps prevent stress through:· becoming aware of the signs of stress· Using this to interrupt behaviour patterns when the stress reaction is just beginning.

Stress usually builds up gradually - The more stress builds up, the more difficult it is to deal with analysing the situation and developing an active plan to minimize the stressors·        

Learning skills of active coping and relaxation, developing a lifestyle that creates a buffer against stress -     practicing the above in low stress situations first to maximize chances of early success and boost self-confidence and motivation to continue.

A wide variety of training courses may help in developing active coping techniques—for example, assertiveness, communications skills, time management, problem solving, and effective management. However, there are many sources of stress that the individual is likely to perceive as outside his or her power to change, such as the structure, management style or culture of the organisation. It is important to note that stress management approaches that concentrate on changing the individual without changing the sources of stress are of limited effectiveness, and may be counterproductive by masking these sources. For example, breathing deeply and thinking positively about a situation causing stress may make for a temporary feeling of well being, but will allow a damaging situation to continue, causing persistent stress and, probably, stress to others. The primary aim of the individual approach should be to develop people's skills and confidence to change their situation, not to help them adapt to and accept a stressful situation.

ORGANISATIONAL STRESS MANAGEMENT

The prevention and management of workplace stress requires organisational level interventions, because it is the organisation that creates the stress. An approach that is limited to helping those already experiencing stress is analogous to administering sticking plaster on wounds, rather than dealing with the causes of the damage. An alternative analogy is trying to run up an escalator that's going down! Organisational interventions can be of many types, ranging from structural (for example, staffing levels, work schedules, physical environment) to psychological (for example, social support, control over work, participation).

Principles of preventing work stress· Working conditions are adapted to people's differing physical and mental aptitudes· Employee is given the opportunity to participate in the design of his/her own work situation, and in the processes of change and development affecting his/her work. Technology, work organisation, and job content are designed so that the employee is not exposed to physical or mental strains that may lead to illness or accidents. Forms of remuneration and the distribution of working hours are taken into account. Closely controlled or restricted work is avoided or limited· Work should provide opportunities for variety, social contact, and cooperation as well as coherence between different working operations· Working conditions should provide opportunities for personal and vocational development, as well as for self determination and professional responsibility.

Management of Stress:

The Four A’s: Avoid, Alter, Adapt and Accept  

“Four A’s”: Avoiding the stressor, Altering the stressor, Adapting to the stressor, Accepting the stressor.

Avoid the stressor

Don’t hesitate to say no - When trying to avoid unnecessary stress, don't hesitate to say no to additional responsibilities. Taking on more than you can handle will only increase your stressful state.

Limit exposure  - Limiting contact with individuals who induce stress may also be constructive. If someone is emotionally draining, you may want to avoid excessive communication with that person. Be mindful of your environment. Take control of your environment. If traffic renders high levels of stress, take a less-travelled route; if the watching the news results in anxiety, turn the television off.

Avoid ‘hot-button’ issues - If talking religion or politics creates tension, avoid those discussions altogether. If you’re with someone who always brings up heated topics, suggest a change in subject matter.Cut down on the list. If you notice that your ‘to-do list’ appears overwhelming, it probably is. Trim away unnecessary tasks and responsibilities and only focus on what you need to accomplish.

Alter the stressor

Express yourself. If you can’t avoid a situation entirely, try to express your feelings verbally, instead of keeping them bottled up inside.Resentment will only continue to grow if feelings are not voiced. Be ready to compromise. If you ask someone to alter their behavior, be willing to do the same until a middle ground is reached. 

Be assertive - Try to confront your problems right away; try your best to anticipate stressful conflicts and prevent them. If someone is trying to get together and you have to meet a deadline, don’t be shy to decline the invitation.

Manage your time - If you plan ahead, you won’t have to worry about feeling overloaded with work, and you can complete the project without having to worry about last minute details.

Adapt to the Stressor

Re frame conflicts. Try to view the problem in a more positive light; find the ‘good within the bad.’ See the big picture. Examine the stressful situation and weigh how important it really is. Will this problem still matter in a month? How about a year? If it’s not worth the distress and the problem won’t be relevant in the long run, move forward.

Adjust standards - Try to avoid perfectionism. If you set reasonable standards for yourself and other individuals, you won’t feel as stressed and disappointed. Hold in on the positive. When the stress is bringing you down, try to take a moment to reflect on all the positivity in your life. 

What is going right for you right now? What do you really appreciate? These strategies will help keep your mind in perspective. 

Accept the stressor

Let the uncontrollable be. Unfortunately, you have to accept what you cannot change; try not to attempt to control the uncontrollable. Since you can’t control the actions or behavior of others, try to focus on what you can control, such as choosing your own reactions to stressful circumstances.Look for growth opportunities. Focus on the upside of the stressor, and embrace the notion that ‘what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.’ How can you grow from this experience; what have you learned? Share feelings with others. It may help to vent to a close friend, family member, or even a therapist. Even if you can’t alter the situation, it can be cathartic to express your feelings.

ForgiveAccept that people make mistakes, but try to let go of any anger or resentment you may feel. When you free yourself of negative energy, the easier it will be to move forward. 

Negative vs. Positive Coping Outlets - When faced with a great amount of stress, many individuals unfortunately turn to unhealthy, detrimental coping mechanisms to numb their pain. How can you cope effectively? What are some positive strategies that may help lessen the stress? Simple, healthy ways to alleviate stress. These can include going out for a scenic walk; watching a lighthearted movie; taking a relaxing bath; playing with a pet; writing in a journal; working in a garden; getting a massage; and talking to a close friend. Expressing your stress through creative endeavours (music, writing and art) can be productive as well. Adopting an overall healthy lifestyle is another great way to lift your mental spirits. Well-nourished bodies are more able to cope effectively. Getting enough sleep and reducing the temporary highs of caffeine and sugar are all beneficial ways to diminish your body’s stress.