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9.1: What is Stress and How Does it Affect Wellness?

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    Stress is defined as the body’s physical, mental, and emotional response to a particular stimulus, called a stressor. This adaption/coping-response helps the body prepare for challenging situations. It is the level of a person’s response to a stressor that determines whether the experience is positive or negative. As a hardworking college student, you may feel as if you know the meaning of stress all too well. You may dream of a future where the demands on your time are diminished, so you can escape the high levels of stress you are feeling now. Unfortunately, regardless of their situation, everyone experiences stress on a regular basis. The good news is, not all stress is bad! Small levels of stress can enhance cognitive brain function. Stress may provide the motivation and concentration you need to write an essay, practice a speech, or prepare for a job interview. For most people, these types of stressors are manageable and not harmful. Stressors that have the potential for harm include the sudden loss of a loved one, the unexpected ending of a romantic relationship, or the unfair demands of an unreasonable boss.

    Defining Stress

    Stress, then, is more than simply the tension and apprehension generated by problems, obstacles, or traumatic events. Stress is the body’s automatic response (physical, mental, and emotional) to any stressor. It is a natural and unavoidable part of life, and it can be empowering and motivating, or harmful and potentially dangerous.

    For more information on stress click on the links below:

    What is Stress?
    Understanding and Dealing with Stress

    Below is a video on stress.


    Effects of Stress on Wellness

    As stated previously, not all stress is bad. In fact, the stress associated with riding a roller coaster, watching a scary movie, or scaling a cliff can enhance these experiences. Regardless of whether the stress experienced is negative or positive, the effects on the body are identical.

    When a person senses that a situation demands action, the body responds by releasing chemicals into the blood. The hypothalamus signals the adrenal glands to release a surge of hormones that include adrenaline and cortisol. The physiological effects of those chemicals—enhanced focus, quicker reaction time, and increased heart rate, energy, and strength—are quite beneficial when faced with a potentially dangerous situation that is temporary.

    Unfortunately, most of the stressors people face—work, school, finances, relationships—are a part of everyday life, and thus, inescapable. Experiencing ongoing, unavoidable stress can result in some very unpleasant and harmful effects, both mental and physical. Chronic stress can cause upset stomach, headaches, sleep problems, and heart disease. It can also cause depression, anxiety, and even memory loss.

    To watch a video that describes the effects of stress in detail, click on the link below:


    This page titled 9.1: What is Stress and How Does it Affect Wellness? is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Flynn et al. (GALILEO Open Learning Materials) .

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