What questions come to mind when we think about stress depends on our relationship with it. If we consider stress as our mortal enemy, then our questions will revolve around the fear of its effects, ways of getting rid of it or at least greatly reducing it, and how we can best distract our mind and tame our symptoms. If, on the other hand, we consider stress as our ally, a friend that warns us when something or someone requires our attention by turning on certain body signals, then our questions will be entirely different. They will revolve around ways of using it to our advantage, toward understanding its precious and vital function, and how best to accept and honor its purpose. Here are the 10 most important questions about stress.
10 Questions About Stress
- Is stress always bad?
No, not always. However stress can be bad, even dangerously bad. It starts out in childhood, as we become aware of the world and its dangers. If it is misunderstood, not explained, ignored or abused, stress can grow with us into something to be feared, avoided, to run from. It can become a constant yet unwanted companion, albeit a greatly misunderstood one. A relationship with stress is thus set up that is entirely adversarial. Its power as a warning system and as a motivator is overlooked. Stress is always bad when, in this way, it becomes a disease.
- What is the prevalence of stress in humans?
It is 100%. Every man, woman and child who ever lived, now lives or will ever live experiences stress. This is not because we are cursed with it, but because we are blessed by its helpful action. In the presence of any stressor, real, imagined or impending, our body instinctively mobilizes for action, helping us better protect and defend ourselves, our loved ones, our property and our values. Without it, we would be inert, uncaring, detached and defenseless individuals.
- What are the variations and severity of stress?
There are two kinds of stress: the stress reaction and chronic stress. The stress reaction is the immediate arousal that occurs in the presence of danger; it rises rapidly, peaks, and subsides after a time; afterwards, the mind and body return to their normal relaxed state. The stress reaction can be more or less intense, and more or less prolonged, depending on the severity of the stressor and on its resolution. Chronic stress is simply a persistence of the stress reaction, which continues at or near its peak without return to the normal relaxed state. The severity of chronic stress depends on the stressor that first triggered it and the continuing stressors that maintain it, and on the lack of any real resolution. Chronic stress is what most people refer to when they complain of suffering from stress.
A day without stress is like, you know, night. –Anonymous
- Can chronic stress be prevented?
Yes, stress can be prevented from becoming chronic, especially in children and young adults. Adults and elderly people have a more difficult time preventing stress from becoming chronic. What is most helpful in prevention is understanding its function and learning to appreciate its value. People who do best are the ones who view a stress-free life not only as the absence of symptoms, but as one that is rich in exercise, balanced nutrition, effective time management, good decision-making skills, appropriate releases of energy and emotion, and strong relationships.
- What are the most common stress triggers?
The most frequent and severe stressors, or stress triggers, are associated with our interpersonal relationships (beginnings, ongoing difficulties, losses) and our physical health. Others that can be very severe but less common are natural disasters, accidents, conflict, or crime. In general, change is a stressor, as are most transitions from one phase of life or age to the next. Work and financial demands are also frequently associated with stress reactions.
- Are there ways for parents to reduce the risk of their children developing chronic stress?
Yes, through educating themselves about the function, benefits and dangers of stress, and passing this knowledge along to their children. There is no better time to learn about how to accept and make the best use of the stress reaction than in childhood and young adolescence, although it can be learned at any age.
- What are the risks associated with stress?
The risks associated with stress are minimal if the stress reaction is allowed to occur and take its normal course, and if stressors are addressed and resolved in a timely manner. Chronic stress, however, carries biological, psychological and social consequences. It can result in severe illness, especially to the cardiovascular and immune systems. It can significantly worsen the prognosis of psychological disorders such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder and many others. Lastly, chronic stress can have a significantly adverse impact on relationships, at work and at home, by augmenting the effects of anger, fatigue, or irritability. It can also diminish productivity and lead to poor decision-making.
- Can stress be cured?
No, the stress reaction cannot be cured because stress itself is not a disease. Stress is a natural and helpful reaction to a danger that mobilizes our defenses. It is impossible to “cure” stress if it means attempting to eliminate it; it would be tantamount to trying to eliminate fear, or joy, or surprise from our lives. On the other hand, chronic stress must be addressed and treated adequately to avoid its most serious consequences to our health, our mind, and our relationships.
- What questions should I ask my physician about stress?
The two most important questions to ask are 1) How seriously has chronic stress affected my physical health (heart, blood pressure, cholesterol, and digestive system being the most vulnerable), and 2) What changes do I need to make to reduce my chronic stress back to a normal stress reaction.
- What can I do to reduce my risk of chronic stress?
There are many different stress management programs available, perhaps even too many to consider them all. Often, lack of success with them prevents their continued application. Often lack of time or motivation are the problem. Often, acute stress itself prevents us from being able to choose an adequate treatment. In many cases, it is advisable to get some external help that facilitates the process. In those cases, a good coach is the ingredient that makes it possible to discover, develop and make the best use of our natural ability to manage stress.