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Stress: What Is It and What Causes It?

We’ve all heard people say that they are under a lot of stress. We might even be able to rattle off a list of symptoms that we ourselves experience when we are feeling stressed. What many people don’t know, though, is the physiological function of stress and how and why our bodies create stress hormones.

In the past, humans were in a competition to survive. The ability to react quickly to situations that could cause death kept our ancestors alive. By using the “fight or flight response” mechanism, our forefathers escaped predators and avoided natural disasters. Today, there are still threats to our well-being that is best fought with the “fight or flight response” such as a near miss automobile accident.

In these situations, the body reacts with a stress hormone that prepares us to deal with the potentially dangerous situation at hand. It helps us move and think faster, see and hear better, jump higher, and hit harder than we ever thought possible. Many people even report that they received super-human strength during times of extreme stress.

Physically your body is going through a lot of changes during this time. Our heartbeat speeds out of control rushing blood major muscle groups; our blood pressure increases; our breathing deepens; and our whole body tenses up for the event about to happen.

For the most part, these stress reactions are temporary and once the threat is gone, so is the stress. In chronic sufferers of stress, though, the stress continues for a long period of time and causes a long line of symptoms. Prolonged stress can even be harmful to your health.

What Causes Stress Today?

While there are no saber-toothed tigers chasing us, the world is still full of immediate stressors that can trigger our “fight or flight response.” But for the most part, today’s stress triggers are more subtle. Here are just a few things that can cause stress in today’s hectic lifestyle:

  • Commuting is a big stressor for many. Heavy traffic, crowded bus terminals, and adverse weather can leave us in a heightened state of stress hours after we arrive to work.
  • Many people become overwhelmed and stressed about world events or about the state of affairs of their own country. This is especially true for those that live in unstable political environments.
  • Work is a big stress inducer for obvious reasons. Meeting deadlines, communicating with peers, and juggling a heavy workload are all stressful.
  • Living in a dysfunctional family or with a family member that needs constant attention can lead to chronic stress.
  • Having an unrealistic expectation of yourself can add a lot of unneeded stress.
  • Poor health, inadequate exercise, and a lousy diet also cause stress.

The thing about the causes of stress that is most interesting is that we are all exposed to these same stressors. What sets a stress sufferer apart from a non-sufferer is how they react to stress triggers. An hour-long traffic jam may be torture for one but could actually be much-needed downtime for another.

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