it’s hard to exactly define stress because everyone handles it differently. One thing we can all agree on is that when someone says they're "stressed out," it’s not a good thing! Most people tend to view stress as an unwanted negative feeling that makes them feel uncomfortable. But stress is actually a perfectly normal, natural condition which, in moderation, can be good for you.
As a response to stress, you experience increases in blood pressure, heart rate, respiration, metabolism, and the blood flow to your muscles. This automatic "fight or flight" response developed over the course of human evolution as a life-saving measure to help us quickly and effectively deal with physical challenges. In modern times, this positive stress response can help you perform important tasks at work or home more efficiently and give you a short-term buzz of energy when you really need it.
However, having this automatic physical reaction to everyday stressors can become harmful to your physical and mental health if experienced in large amounts or over long periods of time. You can feel the negative effects of stress physically when you have too little sleep, a poor diet, or an illness. You feel it mentally if you're worried about a major life change, a family situation, or a big presentation at work. You can also experience toxic stress from negative situations or traumatic events over which you feel little control, such as financial difficulties, relationship problems, or a significant loss. The majority of your mental stress comes from ongoing daily obligations and pressures, such as traffic jams, family responsibilities, and work demands.
it’s important to remember that stress itself is a matter of perception. A situation that is stressful for one person may not be for another. Some people find public speaking challenging and exciting, while others get very distressed by it. Riding a roller coaster or flying in a plane can be exhilarating for some, but terrifying for others. An important key to managing stress is determining your personal tolerance level and identifying which situations trigger it the most. If you constantly experience stress without countering its effects or addressing the source, you may begin to experience both physical and mental health problems.
Too much negative stress can cause physical reactions like insomnia, increased or decreased appetite, backaches or headaches, and can contribute to potentially life-threatening diseases like high blood pressure and heart disease. Emotional reactions to stress may include getting angry or upset more easily or feeling dissatisfied, worried, or inadequate. High levels or long periods of stress can also lead to mental health problems like anxiety disorders or depression.
Here are some steps you can take to manage the stress in your life so you can feel and function at your best:
- Explore tools and strategies to check your stress level and browse a variety of stress busters and coping tips.
- Read more about related mental health conditions including anxiety and depression.
- Take a confidential online screening to see if your symptoms indicate a need for professional help.
- Talk with a professional for support, advice, or referrals. Find resources on campus or in the community in the where to go for help section of this website.