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If you had a boss who didn't make an issue about deadlines, would you really sit down and write out that report right now? If there were no exams or tests, how many of us would be motivated enough to study regularly? If you weren't worried about making a good impression on a client, would you really bother about creating a flawless presentation? So, it is quite obvious that a certain amount of stress actually drives us to perform and this "eustress" has a beneficial effect. But when stress goes beyond a particular level without any relief between challenges, it becomes distress and this can be dangerous in more ways than one.
Stress affects physical health
As the American Psychological Association points out, prolonged stress can lead to several physical symptoms right from headache, tiredness and lack of energy to acidity and sleeplessness. Research shows that stress can trigger or worsen the symptoms of lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and heart problems. Skin conditions, allergies, arthritis and asthma are also known to be aggravated by stress because it interferes in the functioning of the immune system. Stress has also been linked to reproductive problems such as polycystic ovarian syndrome, fertility problems and erectile dysfunction.
Emotional effects of stress
People who are highly stressed often find it difficult to think coherently or logically and cannot focus on their tasks. Ask students about exam fear and they will say they cannot concentrate, or memorise stuff or that their mind goes blank and they cannot remember what they have studied. Stressed persons are also more likely to feel easily frustrated, become irritable, and yell at people around them more often. In some people, stress can lead to strong anxiety about small things and an inability to make decisions.
Chronic stress may result in one of two extreme responses some people feel agitated and are unable to sit still whereas others just withdraw into a shell, shutting off from people around them. Sometimes, there is an extreme reaction to stress called a panic attack where a person feels an intense fear along with physical symptoms such as shortness of breath, severe sweating and a pounding of the heart that may be mistaken for a heart attack.
Effects on behaviour
People with stress are more likely to deviate from their normal patterns of eating, sleeping and other activities. Some people eat less whereas others overeat; some people find it difficult to sleep whereas others are always too sleepy. Unfortunately, some stressed people take to using cigarettes, alcohol or some narcotic drugs to deal with their stress and this substance abuse only aggravates their baggage or problems.
Different people react differently
Say a boss asks some employees to meet him in his office some of them will be worried about what they did wrong; others will begin mentally creating their replies to his criticism and maybe a rare soul will think it is to hand out a promotion. In other words, people react differently to the same situation and this, precisely, is what makes it difficult to predict what causes stress to whom. How you experience stress depends on several factors such as your personality, the way your family trained you to respond to stressful events, the strategies you use to cope and the type of support system you have in place to help you tide over crises.
The National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (NIMHANS) at Bangalore gives a list of things you can do to cope with stress - take a break, relax, go on a holiday, spend time with family and friends, regular exercise, deep breathing or meditation or pursue a hobby. But if you find that none of these helps you cope with stress, there may be some deep-seated medical or psychological issue that is bothering you and it is best to consult a doctor.
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