Understanding stress: what it is, and how it works


Stress is a big deal. We all hear about it and experience it. Just try typing the word stress into Google and see how many results you get! Clearly stress is on everyone's mind.

But what is it? Why does one person experience stress when someone in the same situation doesn't? What's happening in our bodies that causes us to feel "stressed"? Here at OMsignal, we've become "stress experts" as we continually research ways of monitoring and managing it. Let's take a look!

What is stress?

Stress is defined as "a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances."(1). This is usually what we mean when we say, "I feel stressed." But stress is more than mental. Before even noticing our stressed-out state, a whole range of chemical reactions have already taken place in our bodies.

A blast from the past

Our physical stress response is the same whether we are face to face with a Grizzly bear or just anxious about a big meeting. Our brain can't tell the difference between the two, and launches a chemical reaction that causes what we call the fight or flight response. (2) As the name suggests, the fight or flight response sets our bodies on overdrive, preparing us to fight or run away. A range of hormones causes faster heart and breathing rates, shunting oxygenated blood to the big muscles in our arms and legs. (You know - running and fighting muscles!) For our ancestors, this was a huge advantage allowing them to live long enough to...well...keep a few more generations of humans alive. Some of us have been in situations where the fight or flight response was valuable. It may have saved our lives. But the chances of running into a Grizzly are pretty low these days. (Although sometimes when the pressure is high, we'd prefer the Grizzly!) That's why stress is such a problem. If we did need to run away, the fight or flight response would be great. We'd escape and our system would normalize. But today, there are so many little things that can trigger the fight or flight response, our body doesn't get a chance to recover. We stay stuck in stress mode for long periods. It's easy to imagine the extreme effects that this kind of stress could have.

Don't stress about stress!

Luckily for us, stress is no mystery! And since it's happening in the body, we don't need to read minds to figure it out. Thanks to the work of our talented OMies, we can easily read the body's inner signals and determine when stress is occurring...and more than that, we can do something about it! Isn't living in the future great?

Sources: 1. Oxford English Dictionary 2. University of Texas CMHC



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