Sunday 13 December 2009, 23:17

Stress: what is it and how to cope with it?

An overview on stress and its beneficial and deleterious effects

Stress: what is it and how to cope with it?

Stress or "fight or flight" response is a normal physiological and psychological reaction to life's demands and challenges.


Situations or environments perceived as threatening (also called "stressors"), such as really dangerous situations or situations perceived as exceeding one's coping ability, trigger the nervous system to start a protective and alerting response (stress response) in order to cope with them.


Through complex neuroendocrine mechanisms, the hypothalamus stimulates the release of adrenaline and cortisol, which are the hormones responsible for the highly energy requiring "fight or flight" response. Adrenaline is responsible for both metabolic actions (increase of blood glucose, increase of glucose utilization) and cardiovascular effects (increase in heart rate, contractility and blood pressure), while cortisol is responsible for the mobilization of substrates necessary for energy production.


However the protective stress-response cannot be maintained indefinitely. When stress is persistent and energy substrates are no longer available, the initially adaptative process turns into a gradually increasing distress response. Not only the body is deprived of adequate amounts of eneergy, but persistent high levels of cortisol have sustained deleterious effects (eg: electrolytes imbalances, immune system dysfunctions, suppression of digestive system, reproductive system and growth processes).


That's why it is important to learn coping with life's stressors and challenges, before they overwhelm us. The first way to deal with stress is to avoid stressful situations, although this is not always possible. A second way is to learn managing the impact of stressful events. Three steps are essential: 1) identifying stress risk situations; 2) taking control of some stress-inducing circumstances; 3) taking physical and emotional care of oneself with a view to coping effectively with new stressful situations.


Regular exercise, balanced diet, relaxation techniques, regular sleeping, positive thinking and attitude are all proven strategies to cope better with life's challenges. 


By Chiara De Carli

Category: Health

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