When we encounter stress, our body is stimulated to produce stress hormones that trigger a ‘flight or fight’ response and activate our immune system. This response helps us to respond quickly to dangerous situations.
Sometimes, this stress response can be an appropriate, or even a beneficial reaction. The resulting feeling of ‘pressure’ can help us to push through situations that can be nerve-wracking or intense, like running a marathon, or giving a speech to a large crowd. We can quickly return to a resting state without any negative effects on our health if what is stressing us is short-lived, and many people are able to deal with a certain level of stress without any lasting effects.
However, there can be times when stress becomes excessive and too much to deal with. If our stress response is activated repeatedly, or it persists over time, the effects can result in wear and tear on the body and can cause us to feel permanently in a state of ‘fight or flight’. Rather than helping us push through, this pressure can make us feel overwhelmed or unable to cope.
Feeling this overwhelming stress for a long period of time is often called chronic, or long-term stress, and it can impact on both physical and mental health.
Stress is a response to a threat in a situation, whereas anxiety is a reaction to the stress. There are many things that can lead to stress. The death of a loved one, divorce/separation, losing a job and unexpected money problems are among the top ten causes of stress according to one recent survey. But not all life events are negative and even positive life changes, such as moving to a bigger house, gaining a job promotion or going on holiday can be sources of stress.