What is stress?
For many people stress means worry. If they are worried about something (whether it be taking an exam or organising a wedding) they say they feel stressed. But often stress is not just a feeling. It can be physical too. Symptoms of stress vary from the psychological, in the form of anxiety and depression, to the physical, in the form of headaches, insomnia, bowel problems and impotence. In its severest forms stress can lead to hypertension, heart attacks and mental breakdown. Nowadays it is also being blamed for causing cancer.
Why do we get it?
There are four main reasons why people get stressed. One is purely physical – changes in our bodies through adolescence, the aging process, being ill, etc. can cause people to feel stressed. Another cause of stress can be our reaction to our environment. A particularly noisy or polluted environment, for example, can lead to stress. Other causes of stress can be found in the demands people make of us. For example, being required to meet deadlines, give presentations or organise an important family get-together can put a lot of strain on some people. Also in this category we find challenges such as financial difficulties, marital problems and the loss of a close friend or relative, all of which can cause immense stress.
Another reason why people get stressed is that their thought patterns enable stress to take hold. What some people may regard as a challenge others may perceive as a serious problem. Hence they will feel stressed about it, their brains triggering a stress response in their bodies which will produce stress symptoms.
It seems that the main thing which triggers stress is change. Any changes in our lives (be they bad or good) can cause a person to feel stressed and lead to related physical symptoms.
What are the effects of stress?
Stress, apparently, has a major impact on society. It has been estimated that over 30 million working days are lost every year through stress. And that is just in the UK! However the problem is not confined to the UK. In fact the number of working days lost through stress-related problems is so great that the World Health Organisation has dubbed stress ‘a global epidemic’. The WHO may well be right: according to some statistics more than 75% of patients in doctors’ surgeries are there because of stress-related problems or illnesses. Work seems to be a major cause of stress: it is often said that most heart attacks happen on Monday mornings when people get to work.
So what’s the cure?
The symptoms of stress are so varied that there isn’t just one way of curing it. Surgeons cannot simply x-ray a patient suffering from stress, locate the source of the complaint and then operate to remove it! Doctors’ responses range from doling out anti-depressants and other medicines to recommending meditation and yoga. If anyone ever develops a pill to cure stress they will no doubt make a lot of money!
Quick Quiz: Read the clues below and write the solutions on a piece of paper. Then take the first letter of each answer and rearrange them to find the hidden word connected with this Talking Point.
1. In its severest forms stress can __________ to hypertension, heart attacks and mental breakdown.
2. Changes in our bodies through __________, the aging process, being ill etc. can cause people to feel stressed.
3. Any changes in our lives (be they bad or good) can cause a person to feel stressed and lead to __________ physical symptoms.
4. The number of working days lost through stress-related problems is so great that the World Health Organisation has dubbed stress "a global __________".
5. Surgeons cannot simply __________ a patient suffering from stress, locate the source of the complaint and then operate to remove it!