What Stress Is and How to Deal With It

Stress is a complex phenomenon that can be associated with various aspects of our lives. Let’s talk about how to cope with stress and how it affects our physiology.

The Physiology of Stress: The Basics

Stress physiology studies the processes that occur in the body when exposed to stressors. It’s important to understand that stress isn’t only a mental phenomenon but also a physiological one.

When we experience stress, various changes occur in our body. First the sympathetic nervous system is activated, then the hormone adrenaline begins to be produced. This results in a stress response, which can lead to the development of emotional stress or other problems.

Types of Stress

Stress is an integral part of everyone’s life. It arises as a result of the interaction of the individual with the environment and is a reaction to various external and internal stimuli, which lead to changes in the state of the body.

Acute Stress

Such stress occurs in response to a specific, short-term threat or event. It usually has obvious causes, such as an accident, involvement in an argument, or an unexpected problem at work. The physiological response to stress involves activation of the sympathetic nervous system, which stimulates the production of adrenaline and noradrenaline. These hormones increase heart rate, raise blood pressure and speed up metabolism, preparing the body to respond quickly to a threat. In small doses, acute stress can be beneficial because it helps mobilize the body’s resources and overcome obstacles. However, constant or repeated exposure to acute stress can lead to exhaustion and the development of chronic stress.

Acute stress

Chronic Stress

Chronic stress develops as a result of prolonged exposure to stressors on the body. It can be related to ongoing problems in your personal life, at work, or with social factors. Unlike acute stress, chronic stress results in constant high levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, which can negatively affect a person’s physiology.

Chronic stress can cause disorders of the cardiovascular, immune, nervous and endocrine systems. It can also lead to cognitive decline, impaired memory and sleep as well as the development of depression and anxiety disorders. Long-term exposure to chronic stress can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, obesity and other health problems.

Post-traumatic Stress

Post-traumatic stress is a specific type of stress that occurs after experiencing or witnessing highly traumatic events, such as physical violence, accidents, disasters or warfare. This type of stress can cause a number of psychological and physiological symptoms, including recurrent memories of the traumatic event, nightmares, loss of interest in life, irritability, and hypervigilance. Physiological manifestations of PTSD may include sleep disturbances, headaches, heart palpitations, and elevated blood pressure.

What Are the Causes of Stress?

Stress is a reaction to physical, emotional or psychological factors that cause a person to feel insecure, anxious or worried. Stress can occur for many reasons and in many different situations.

Some of the most common causes of stress include:

  • Work is one of the main causes of stress in people. Uncertainty about future prospects, high levels of demands, pressure to achieve results, interpersonal conflicts, etc. can cause people to become stressed.
  • Personal relationships. Problems in personal relationships such as divorce, death of a loved one, quarrels with a partner can also cause stress.
  • Financial problems. Lack of money, debts, loans and other financial problems.
  • Physical health. Health problems such as illness, injury, chronic diseases.
  • Adverse environmental conditions such as noise, air pollution, toxic substances.
  • Life changes. Life changes such as moving, getting laid off, moving to a new job, having a baby.
  • Social problems. Discrimination, violence, public opinion, and other social problems.

These reasons may be different for each person and may cause stress to varying degrees. Stress can be temporary or chronic and can lead to a variety of health problems, including heart disease, depression, anxiety disorders, immune system problems and other problems. Therefore, it’s important to take care of your mental and physical health to minimize the effects of stress on your health and life in general.

The Influence of Stress on Human Physiology

Stress can have a variety of physiological effects on the body. Some of these include:

  • Disruption of homeostasis. Under the influence of stress, homeostasis – the constant internal state of the body – is disrupted, which can lead to malfunctions of various systems and organs.
  • Chronic stress can lower the immune system, making the body more vulnerable to infections and disease.
  • Oxidative stress. Stress can produce free radicals that damage cells and tissues, which can contribute to chronic disease and aging.
  • Hormonal changes. Stress affects hormonal balance, which can lead to reproductive dysfunction, metabolic failures and increased risk of endocrine disease.

Stages and Development of Stress

Stress doesn’t develop instantly, but goes through several stages, described in the theory of the General Adaptation Syndrome by Canadian endocrinologist Hans Sellier. He distinguished three main stages of the stress process: the anxiety stage, the resistance stage and the exhaustion stage. Let’s consider each of them in more detail.

Stage of Anxiety

In this stage, the body first encounters a stressor – an external or internal stimulus that causes a stress response. In response to the threat, the sympathetic nervous system and the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis are activated, resulting in the production of adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol. These hormones help mobilize the body’s resources and strengthen the heart, respiratory and muscular systems. As a result, a person becomes more alert, attentive, and ready for action.

The Resistance Stage

If the stressor continues to act, the body enters the second stage of stress, the resistance or adaptation stage. During this period, the body tries to adjust to the impact of the stressor and minimize its negative effects. Hormonal balance is restored, and the body begins to actively use its resources to fight the stress. In some cases, this may lead to a short-term improvement of well-being and performance.

However, being in the resistance stage for a long time can deplete the body, as it expends more energy than it can replenish. The result is overwork, the immune system weakens, and one becomes more vulnerable to infections and other diseases.


With prolonged and strong exposure to stressors, when resistance and adaptation mechanisms are exhausted, the body transitions to the third stage of stress – the stage of exhaustion or degradation. In this state, the body can no longer effectively cope with stress and begins to lose its ability to adapt. A significant decrease in energy levels, a pronounced weakening of the immune system and disruption of many internal organs and systems become characteristic features of this stage.

The physical and emotional health of the person at this stage deteriorates considerably. Chronic diseases, psychosomatic disorders, as well as a worsening of the quality of life in general can occur. It’s important to recognize this stage in time and take measures to reduce stress and restore the body.

Why Is Stress Relief Important?

Stress relief is an important aspect of maintaining mental and physical health. Stress, if not dealt with, can lead to various health problems such as high blood pressure, heart problems, muscle and joint pain, as well as various psychological problems such as depression, anxiety, panic attacks and other problems.

Stress can also affect performance and productivity, which can lead to problems at work and in your personal life. It can cause conflicts with co-workers and loved ones, distort your assessment of reality, and lead to erroneous decisions.

If stress isn’t relieved in time, it can become chronic, which can lead to more serious and even life-threatening health problems.

Therefore, stress relief is important to maintain mental and physical health, improve quality of life and increase performance. Various methods can be used to relieve stress, such as exercise, meditation, yoga, deep breathing, positive thinking practices and other methods. It’s also important to have a work-life balance, maintain quality personal relationships and seek professional help if stress becomes chronic and negatively affects quality of life.

How to Stay Healthy and Manage Stress?

To maintain your health and prevent the ill effects of stress, learn how to cope with stress and find appropriate ways to respond to stressful situations. Some methods to reduce stress and improve physiological well-being include:

  • Regular exercise. Physical activity helps reduce stress hormones and improves mood and overall well-being.
  • Good nutrition. A balanced diet rich in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals can help reduce oxidative stress and strengthen the immune system.
  • Developing relaxation techniques. Practicing meditation, yoga, breathing exercises or progressive muscle relaxation can help reduce stress levels and improve the body’s physiological well-being.
  • Ensuring quality sleep. Regular healthy sleep helps to restore and replenish the body’s resources, reduces stress levels and improves cognitive function.
  • Social support. Socializing with friends and family and participating in social groups and communities can help reduce feelings of isolation and support psychological well-being.
  • Seeking professional help. In cases of prolonged or severe stress related to physiological disorders, it’s important to see a therapist for professional help and an individualized recovery plan.