A stressor, is something that places a demand on you and demands a response. The Stress, produced maybe acute, or chronic. Acute stress generally passes quickly, like avoiding a dog, which runs across the road in front of the car, when you are driving. Chronic stress however, continues for a longer period and demands greater resources to deal with the enduring arousal state.
When faced with stress, a person generally has a fight or flight response, activated by the brains hypothalamus, which controls the autonomic nervous system and activates the pituitary gland. The autonomic nervous system, causes breathing to become faster, blood vessels to constrict and a rise in blood pressure, in response to stress. The pituitary gland, secretes hormones which provide more energyand the release of more sugar into the blood.
When the body is chronically stressed, the immune system may become compromised and a person may become exhausted, with a decreased ability to respond to further stress. This can result in depression and illness. Chronic stress can arise from the anxiety about a health condition, overpopulation, crime, poverty or threats to your well being.
Traumatic events like earthquakes and terrorism can create severe stress and result in post traumatic distress disorder (PTSD). PTSD (DSM-IV, 1994) is a reaction to stress, where a person persistently re-experiences the traumatic event, they may experience flashbacks or horrific nightmares. Sufferers may also feel numb and distant and alienated from others.
Daily Stressors, are those everyday occurences like the dog barking and keeping you awake, running out of milk when you need to give the kids breakfast, or being stuck in the traffic again on the way to work. Daily hassles and stressors, can, if frequent and intense, add up to poor heath and mental status (Lazarus, 1981,1984b)
Coping With Stress
Broadly, there are two major kinds of coping in response to stress:
1. Problem-Directed Coping- where you fight the stress by destroying or removing it, or flight moving away from the stress.
2. Emotion-Focused Coping This is where the stressor can not be changed, but your response to it can.Useful strategies are: biofeedback (free), relaxation (free), guided visualisation (free), meditation (free)
Anxiety, can interfere with your enjoyment of life and ability to function. There are however, a few different types of anxiety disorders.
General Anxiety Disorder
Most of the time, a person will feel anxious or worried, without there being a direct threat or danger. There is usually a simmering anxiety about money, the future or concerns about those you love. Symptoms can range from tense muscles, irritability, problems sleeping, restlessness and inability to concentrate.
Panic attacks are terrible and while they may last only a short time, they can be debilitating. Feelings of dizziness, increased heart rate and sensations of choking are common.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
OCD, includes obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions maybe about cleanliness and compulsions maybe acts that you feel you must perform, often repetitively
Usually, a sufferer fears being negatively judged, or evaluated and dreads being embarrassed in public. Symptoms may include: blushing, sweating, heart palpitations, nausea or trembling. Research has shown that a negative family life experiences, or experiences like bullying, can be a major factor in this disorder. This disorder is however often easily treated by cognitive behavioural therapy. Famous people like Donny Osmond and Barbara Streisand have suffered from this disorder and recovered.
There is evidence, of a biological aspect to anxiety disorders (Nutt & Malizia, 2001), however there are also some treatments that have proved effective for many people.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (free)
This therapy, allows you to change your behaviour patterns and negative self statements. This treatment, has been shown to increase self esteem, coping mechanisms and increase self efficacy. Also see
Joining a support group can be very helpful for some. A social group, who share similar problems can provide support and strategy ideas.
A systematic review of research, has found that certain herbs have strong evidence for the treatment of anxiety. These are extracts of passionflower or kava and combinations of L-lysine and L-arginine. (see here)
Doctors may prescribe medications like Xanax, Librium, Valium, and Ativan or Beta-blockers.
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