Stress effects on the body

Every day we make dozens of decisions. Sometimes we face more difficult choices. How to save a company in a crisis? What actions should we take to reduce the risk of error and minimize the company’s losses? If in the first case, solving the problem does not require a lot of energy from us, then in the second we have to take into account more serious costs.

In such crises, we almost automatically switch to safe mode. We start acting under stress. Or is it always the same as increasing the probability of failure? Can stress be reassuring? What influences the strength of stress and who can better cope with it?

The power of stress

Imagine that you are a mid-level employee. You have been working for the same company for many years. Your duties are simple, uniform, monotonous, and unchangeable. Every morning you sit at the same table and fill out the same sheets with columns of numbers. Perhaps you have a coffee break, and then sit down again and get enough of boredom.


Incomprehensible boredom, right? After a while, you will probably feel professional burnout. You will feel empty and unnecessary. Simple classes will become huge, you will start making mistakes more and more often. It will be harder for you to get out of bed in the morning, and it will be uncomfortable for you to sleep because you still wake up tired. Although theoretically, your job is not too demanding, you still complain about the lack of energy. Depression can finally get to you. Why?

Paradoxically, the level of stress you are experiencing is too low. A person is designed in such a way that he needs a certain dose of adrenaline to work better. Stimuli that will revive him. So moderate stress is simply necessary. Here the first ladder appears. Because what does moderate mean? Each person has a reaction threshold. For everyone, it can mean something completely different. Coping with stress is like coping with pain. Some people faint at the sight of blood and scream at the top of their voices when they hit themselves with a pin.

Others calmly take out a piece of deeply embedded glass from their feet without even wincing. Thus, we feel an optimal level of stress when “something” happens from time to time, but it is not – subjectively – very burdensome for us. If you tilt the scale in the other direction, the tension will increase excessively.

How does the body react to stress?

  • general physical tension in the body, which may include abdominal pain, pallor, palpitations, dry mouth, increased sweating, chills, feeling weak, trembling in the arms, legs, pain in the joints, back, neck, and other parts of the body, difficulty speaking, nervous tics, high and nervous laughter, gnashing of teeth;
  • impaired coordination, blurred vision;
  • slow reflex – often combined with a feeling of “unreality”;
  • fear and confusion in the head;
  • inability to concentrate and think normally;
  • significant reduction in efficiency.

Categories of stressors

How we cope with a stressful situation depends on several factors. The most basic of them is the stressor itself, that is, an incentive or a stressful situation.

We can distinguish three categories of stressors:

  • Disasters – that is, accidents affecting a large group of people at the same time (for example, natural disasters – floods, fires). In most cases, they occur suddenly and are unpredictable. Extremely burdensome for the psyche. They require a huge effort to cope with stress.
  • Personal stress factors – relate to individuals. These are events such as example, the loss of a job or the birth of a child. Although they are sometimes predictable, they undoubtedly have a very strong influence. Personal stressors are sometimes harder to deal with natural disasters due to a lack of support.
  • Secondary stressors – everyday life troubles. Small, constant, annoying problems. These include, for example, the sounds of roadworks during work. If we forcibly ignore them and leave them unresolved, they can cause more damage in the long run than natural disasters or stress factors.
Stressor types

The more stressors at a time, the stronger they are (objectively, but also subjectively because we have different limits of endurance), the longer they last, and the stronger, more unexpected, and newer they are for us, the worse we work. It is more difficult to recover, we often make the wrong decisions.

What helps in a crisis?

People with high stable self-esteem and an excellent sense of responsibility (free will) can overcome stress easier and faster. Like a self-fulfilling prophecy, such a person believes that he can cope, and it is easier for him to focus on solving the problem. Physical characteristics of a person, such as strength or health, also play an important role (when we are tired and weak, our psyche becomes more fragile). The support of relatives in difficult moments is also important (sometimes just talking about the problem significantly reduces tension and “brightens the head”), as well as our material, information, and educational resources.

Hangout with friends

Summing up, we can say that a person who has self-support (healthy beliefs about himself, openness, flexibility, and self-confidence) and is largely aware of the global need for security (financial stability and satisfactory relationships with other people) will experience stress the most, to put it mildly. A person who has a positive experience of solving problems or is prepared for specific stressful events (for example, participating in tests and exercises simulating specific crises).

Stress stages according to Hans Seli

In psychology, there is the concept of adaptation syndrome, i.e. the general nature of reaction in a difficult stressful situation. Its author, Hans Selye, divided it into three successive stages:

  • The stage of the anxiety reaction is the first strong reaction to the appearance of an extraneous factor. There are physiological changes (described above) that occur as a result of many biochemical changes in the body. If the stress factor is extremely strong and sudden, we are likely to respond with shock and denial. Shock can manifest itself either in the form of a violent emotional reaction (screaming, crying, anger) or in the form of immobility or bewilderment. The denial is that we don’t fully understand what happened. Our mind protects itself from threatening information. We don’t believe in it, we feel cut off, frozen. Once the numbness goes away, we will experience mood swings that can also disrupt our daily lives. Therefore, at this stage, we will not be able to perform any tasks.
  • The stage of immunity is the time when the body gets used to new, harmful conditions. Physiological processes are returning to normal. Emotions subside, although we still feel tension, irritation, and anxiety. We can act constructively and focus on solving the problem.
  • Exhaustion stage – this happens when the stressor needs more time to act, and we do not find a way to cope with the situation. The body can no longer defend itself. Multiple symptoms of an anxiety reaction appear again. This leads to exhaustion, depression, and, in extreme cases, death.

Types of stress reactions and their duration

An acute stress reaction lasts 24-48 hours. On the third day, the symptoms are minimal. It appears only when the stress factor is very burdensome (for example, in a disaster situation), and our resources are limited. It is characterized by symptoms of panic, confusion, distraction, serious sleep disturbance, suspicion, and periodic inability to perform everyday tasks. Professional assistance – crisis intervention consists, among other things, in providing immediate support, providing shelter away from the scene of events, sometimes with the help of pharmacotherapy and at a later stage supportive psychotherapy.

A normal stress reaction (it can develop into an acute stress reaction or may occur spontaneously without an earlier acute phase) usually lasts several weeks. A simple conversation with a friend can help, or – if stress affects more than a few people (for example, employees of one company) – reconstruction (debriefing) – sharing your memories, feelings, and thoughts in a group, describing your reactions, and then familiarizing yourself with the patterns of reaction to traumatic stress and ways of coping with such a situation.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a set of specific symptoms that can appear in people after experiencing an extremely traumatic event. Post-traumatic stress disorder includes three groups of symptoms:

  • excessive arousal: the persistent expectation of danger (very acute orientation reflex, very strongly focused on stimuli, at least a little like trauma); physiological signs of arousal; aggression,
  • intrusion: inability to forget a traumatic event. Nightmares or obsessive memories that are experienced as if they are repeated over and over in the present; overwhelming fear,
  • narrowing: the indifference into which a person falls after rejection, persistent avoidance of people, situations, and places associated with the trauma; depression.

Post-traumatic stress disorder lasts at least several weeks (more than a month). However, its effects may persist for the rest of your life. If left untreated, it can lead to irreversible personality disorders and even death. Therefore, the help of a professional is necessary for the treatment of these problems.

A small dose of stress is necessary for proper functioning

We need stimulation so that we can develop properly and fulfill our tasks. It is impossible to determine one, optimal, common stress level for everyone. How the body reacts to stress depends on many factors. Two people exposed to the same stress factor may react differently. It all depends on their life experience – previous experience of overcoming difficult situations and the resources they have. A person with low self-esteem, relying on “blind luck”, without the support of relatives, sick, or “only” overloaded, more often develops stronger stress symptoms that will last longer. Such a person may not be able to cope with difficulties.

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