80% of all diseases in America are linked to stress, and all of us experience stress on a daily basis in various ways such as work, noise, pollution, relationships and family among others. Stress is defined as an emotionally disruptive or upsetting condition occurring in response to adverse external influences. When a physical or mental event threatens this equilibrium, we react to it. This process is often referred to as the "fight or flight response." We prepare for physical action in order to confront or flee a threat.

Our ancestors responded to stress in a similar manner. We do the same a few million years later! When we are faced a situation that we perceive as threatening, our body automatically goes into overdrive, engaging the stress response. Immediately, we release the same hormones that allowed our ancestors to move and think faster, hit harder, see better, hear more acutely, and jump higher than they could only seconds earlier. Stress is capable of affecting health at a physical level by increasing heart rate, raising blood pressure, muscular tension, irritability and depression.

Not all stress is bad. As a positive influence, it can help compel us into action; it can result in a new awareness and an exciting new perspective. As a negative influence, it can result in feelings of distrust, rejection, anger, and depression, which in turn can lead to health problems such as headaches, upset stomach, rashes, insomnia, ulcers, high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke. With the death of a loved one, the birth of a child, a job promotion, or a new relationship, we experience stress as we readjust our lives. In so adjusting to different circumstances, stress will help or hinder us depending on how we react to it.

When stress is positive, your body automatically relaxes after you’ve handled the situation that caused your stress response. This relaxation response is the most important aspect of positive stress, because it allows you to rest and gather the physical and emotional energy you need to meet the next challenge. Stress is more likely to be positive in the individual who has a healthy lifestyle.

It is important to remain attentive to negative stress symptoms and to learn to identify the situations that evoke them. When these symptoms persist, you are at risk for serious health problems because stress can exhaust your immune system. Recent research demonstrates that 80% of illness is stress-related.

Everyone experiences stress from time to time. Stress disorders, however, are of a different magnitude. These occur as a result of profound trauma, such as encountering or witnessing a death, or experiencing serious injury. People with stress disorders exhibit intense fear, helplessness, or horror. Acute stress disorder occurs soon after the traumatic event and lasts for a month or less. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may begin within a few days of an event or may have delayed onset—sometimes as long as 30 to 40 years—and continues for more than three months.


People with the following conditions or characteristics are at a higher-than-average risk for developing a stress disorder.

  • Women are at greater risk than men
  • Older people and children
  • People with the following personality traits: neurotic, extroverted, poor self-confidence, past history of psychiatric problems
  • Genetic predisposition
  • Guilt or shame
  • Lack of social support or financial security
  • Early separation from parents, childhood neglect
  • Alcoholic parents
  • Poverty

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