Stress: its surprising implications for health

Whether it is down to work pressure, money worries or relationship troubles, most of us experience stress at some point in our lives. In fact, around 75% of us report experiencing moderate to high levels of stress over the past month. It is well known that stress can cause sleep problems, headache and raise the risk of depression. But in this Spotlight, we look at some of the more surprising ways in which stress may harm our health.
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) define stress as the “brain’s response to any demand.” In other words, it is how the brain reacts to certain situations or events.
It is important to note that not all stress is negative. Many of us who have been in a pressurized situation may have found that stress has pushed us to perform better. This is down to a “fight-or-flight” response, whereby the brain identifies a real threat and quickly releases hormones that encourage us to protect ourselves from perceived harm.
It is when this fight-or-flight response overreacts that problems arise, and this usually happens when we find ourselves exposed to constant threats.
“Stress is caused by the loss or threat of loss of the personal, social and material resources that are primary to us. So, threat to self, threat to self-esteem, threat to income, threat to employment and threat to our family or our health,” Stevan Hobfoll, PhD, the Judd and Marjorie Weinberg presidential professor and chair at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, IL, and member of the American Psychological Association (APA), told Medical News Today.
In February last year, the APA released their annual “Stress in America” Survey, which assesses the attitudes and perceptions of stress and identifies its primary causes among the general public.
The survey, completed by 3,068 adults in the US during August 2014, revealed that the primary cause of stress among Americans is money, with 72% of respondents reporting feeling stressed about finances at some point over the past month. Of these, 22% said they had felt “extreme stress” in the past month as a result of money worries.
The second most common cause of stress among Americans was found to be work, followed by the economy, family responsibilities and personal health concerns. On a positive note, average stress levels among Americans have decreased since 2007. On a 10-point scale, respondents rated their stress levels as 4.9, compared with 6.2 in 2007. However, the APA say such levels remain significantly higher than the 3.7 stress rating we consider to be healthy.

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