Introduction to Stress: Its physiological, mental & behavioural impact

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Most of us, unfortunately, are familiar with the concept of stress. But do you really know what happens to your mind and body when you get stressed? Find out.

[caption id="attachment_1734" align="alignleft" width="200" caption="Stress is all too familiar in our world"]stress and its impact[/caption]

In an ideal world, you are perfect. You are good at your job, your boss loves you, as do your spouse and children. But only you can feel your head throbbing constantly and off late you find your hand shaking when holding your toothbrush. Appearances are deceptive and also very stressful to keep up. It’s time to call the shots, don’t let circumstances dictate your life. Say goodbye to stress for good!

Who can get stressed?

Stress can affect anyone, anytime, anyplace. What’s important to know is that stress can actually be good for you (eustress). It is only when stress reaches unimaginable levels that it hinders your progress and makes you feel frustrated and sad (distress). This theory was proposed by Hans Selye, a pioneer in the field of stress.

Consider this scenario. You are on a roller coaster ride. As the roller coaster gathers pace, you feel happy and excited. Other people are screaming and wailing. Some are hysterical with fear. Clearly, the same stimulus can evoke different reactions in different people. What could be horrifying to someone could be gratifying to you. As the saying goes, one man’s food is another man’s poison.

What happens when we are stressed?

When confronted with a stressful situation, the human body (due to genetic programming) retreats to its survival instincts. Our ancestors had much sharper senses of sight, smell, touch, hearing and taste. This is because they needed these while hunting for food and to detect the presence of predators. This is aptly termed ‘the fight or flight response’. This response is alive and active even today. It causes the release of steroids (cortisol) and adrenaline from various glands in the body. These hormones spur all the systems, like respiratory, cardio-vascular, abdominal, endocrine and nervous systems, into overdrive.

Find out how men react to stress.

The result of stress

Body’s reaction: Food is stored as carbohydrate, protein and fat to be used when the need arises. This causes weight gain.

Brain’s reaction: Certain chemicals are released causing fatigue and lethargy. They retard short-term memory and affect mental processing speed leading to a decline in mental tasks.

Physiological signs of stress: Immediate

  1. Cold, clammy, shaky hands
  2. Sweating palms and soles
  3. Tightening of muscles

Physiological signs of stress: Long-term

  1. Immunity weakens
  2. Gastro-intestinal problems like constipation, irritable bowel syndrome
  3. Unexplained fatigue
  4. Sleeplessness
  5. Longer recovery from injury
  6. Endocrine system imbalance

Mental signs of stress

  1. Anxiety
  2. Endocrine system imbalance
  3. Forgetfulness
  4. Depression
  5. Confusion
  6. Apathy

Behavioural signs of stress

  1. Hostility
  2. Under/overeating
  3. Irritability
  4. Listlessness

In this article we hope to have conveyed to you how to recognize stress. The following article will deal with strategies to help you cope with stress, no matter what the stress-er.  Watch this space for more!


Written by Dr Nisreen Nakhoda, General Physician

Photographs by Gavin Wood and Ahmet Sen, via