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Definition of Stress May Be Too Simple

Stress Results in a Cascade of Symptoms Affecting Both Physical and Mental Health


There is no easy definition of stress, because the word is used to refer to many things. It can be a noun, a verb or an adjective.

Here, we are looking at how the word is used to refer to mental, emotional and physical tension caused by stressful situations or life events and the related health problems. The information may help you decide if you are suffering from chronic or workplace induced stress. Hans Seyle was an endocronologist who studied the effect of stress on the body and his definition of stress is, "Stress is the body’s nonspecific response to a demand placed on it." That's an unassuming definition of what can result in catastrophic effects on your physical and mental health.

What are the Symptoms of Stress?

There are dozens of different symptoms. Some of which may be very serious. Not everyone experiences all of these symptoms. What you can do with this list is to think about whether a symptom you have experienced could have been caused by a stressful situation at home or work. More often than not, it is a situation at work.

Stomach problems—nausea, indigestion, constipation, diarrhea, non-specific pain, heartburn, loss of appetite, ulcers

Aches and pains—headaches, joint pain, lower-back pain, neck pain, jaw pain, toothache

Sleep problems—insomnia, middle-of-the night insomnia, nightmares

Mental health problems—anxiety, depression, mood swings, suicidal thoughts, ongoing mental distress, PTSD, inability to concentrate or complete tasks, confusion, aggressive behavior

Cardiovascular problems—hypertension (high blood pressure), heart attack, heart disease, stroke

Other symptoms—rashes, itching, bad breath, hemorrhoids, varicose veins, frequent viral infections, general fatigue, exhaustion

What is Stress Caused By?

And, why does stress cause those symptoms? Simply put, it is an emotional reaction that begins in the brain.

For many years, there was a great deal of confusion about why any of the physical symptoms could be caused by what begins as an emotional state. Recent animal and human studies have identified underlying changes that explain the physical symptoms.

The changes in blood pressure, respiration and heart rate can lead to cardiovascular problems and can result in heart attacks and strokes (even varicose veins). Blood is directed to the brain or large muscles and away from the skin, which can explain the rashes. The digestive and immune systems temporarily shut down, which explains the stomach problems, the hemorrhoids and the frequent infections.

During stressful situations, a flood of steroidal hormones is released. The hormones contribute to inflammation, which explains the aches and pains.

Animal studies have shown that long-term exposure to the corticosteroids causes changes in portions of the brain responsible for memory, mood and aggressive behavior. That explains the mental health problems.

The definition of stress, physical, mental or emotional tension, seems overly simple when compared to the symptoms and bodily changes it can cause. Knowing the answer to what is stress caused by does little to relieve the symptoms.

What is Workplace Induced Stress?

There are a number of working situations that can lead to the workplace-induced stress. Some of the problematic situations identified by researchers include:

  • Poor work conditions

  • Differences among the personalities of co-workers

  • Differences in the coping skills of employees

  • Economic issues—low pay, pressure from investors, struggling economy, poor sales, etc.

  • Working long hours

  • Childcare conflicts

  • Having little control over one’s job

  • Lack of job security

  • Increased responsibilities

  • Managerial changes

  • Harassment

  • Bullying

In a Northwestern National Life survey, 40% of respondents indicated that their jobs were "very or extremely stressful." Other studies reported similar results, although the percentages were lower. Exactly how prevalent the problem is may be unknown, but at least 25% of employees have said their jobs are the main stressors in their lives.

Dealing with the workplace-induced problem requires the effort of management and employees. Prevention is the key when it comes to harassment and workplace bullying. Establishing and maintaining an open-door policy is essential. For other types of stressors, learning coping skills or de-stressing techniques is beneficial.

Learning the definition of stress is just the beginning. If you believe you are suffering from the symptoms, now you need to learn what to do before your long-term health is negatively affected.

Other Recommended Resources:

Related Articles:

Effects of Stress

Physical and Emotional Symptoms of Stress

How to Deal With Stress


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