Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Not All Stress Is Created Equal

All of us know what it’s like to be stressed. Some of us might be blessed with just a smattering of it here and there, while others may not even remember what it’s like to not be stressed. Some show their stress, while others hide it. And though many can keep it under control, not everyone can.

Not all stress is created equal, and while some stress might not do much harm, too much definitely will.

Understanding stress is a big part of keeping it under control.
Understanding stress is a big part of keeping it under control.
Image: Shutterstock
It seems intuitive to just assume that any stress is bad—but that’s not true. Stress is what allows us to deal with intense situations, like avoiding a car collision or meeting a tough deadline. It helps us focus in on a goal without letting chaos get in the way.

Our bodies tense up in these moments; our heart rates rise, our blood vessels constrict, and our bodies move into a heightened state of awareness. That moment is supposed to pass fairly quickly, allowing our bodies to return to normal. The problem comes in when it doesn’t pass, and when we don’t give our bodies and brains a chance to rest.

There are two main types of stress: acute and chronic. The day-to-day stress that comes and goes quickly is acute stress. Most of the time, isolated incidents of acute stress are not harmful and may even help us learn to cope with stressful situations in the future. But when someone experiences severe acute stress, those events can come back to haunt them—events like being the victim of a crime or seeing something terrible happen can cause future problems like post-traumatic stress disorder or acute stress disorder.

Chronic stress, on the other hand, is when someone becomes stressed out for a prolonged period of time. Because the body is so often in a state of stress, it is more susceptible to health problems like heart disease, cancer, lung disease, cirrhosis of the liver, accidents, and even suicide.

Like anything else, the goal with stress management should be moderation. Just like it’s probably unrealistic to say you’ll never eat sugar ever again, it’s also unrealistic to expect a life free of stress—especially since we so often cannot control our stressors. Instead of expecting perfection, become familiar with stress—what your individual stressors are and how you can overcome or minimize their impact on you.