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What Is Stress?
"Stress occurs when an individual perceives that environmental demands tax or exceed his or her adaptive capacity."
-- Cohen, et al., 2007.
That said, stress is a word that can mean many other things, with many slightly varying definitions. But for the purpose of this Glossary, we are not talking about stress in terms of emphasis or physical mechanics; rather we are referring to psychological stress. Put simply, psychological stress occurs when an event or situation is too much for an individual to handle.
This definition, while very accurate, is not very specific. Neither is stress. Stress is experienced in response to physical or psychological stimuli. Stress is experienced in anticipation of a big presentation, running late, or fighting with a spouse.
Although these situations are all different, the body’s physiological response to stress -- the “fight or flight” response (or Sympathetic nervous system arousal) -- is the same every time. Adrenaline begins pumping, the heart beats faster and breathing accelerates. The body gets ready for action – even when stressing out while sitting in traffic. The severity of the feelings of stress certainly varies depending on the situation, but the baseline physiological changes are always the same.
Recently “stress” has been excoriated in the U.S. because more and more research demonstrates the detrimental effects it has on the body and mind. Most often, stress is linked to heart disease, specifically the increased risk of high blood pressure and heart attack. Other conditions linked to stress include irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), sleep disorders such as insomnia, depression, panic attacks, and diabetes, to name just a few.