Stress is a physical and psychological response to perceived demands and pressures. In the stress response, people mobilize physical and emotional resources to cope with the demands and pressures. A stress response that is frequent, extreme, or prolonged can place a lar ge demand on, or even deplete, a person' s physical, social, and psychological resources. Strong stressors also generate feelings of distress. Our bodies express this distress in a variety of ways, often in the form of irritability , anger, anxiety, depression, fatigue, tension headaches, stomachaches, hypertension, migraines, ulcers, or colitis. Eventually , stress can lead to even more serious illnesses, such as cancer, diabetes, or thyroid dysfunction.
Psychologists distinguish four varieties of stress:
• Acute stress is what most people associate with the term stress. Acute stress results from the sudden onset of demands and is experienced as tension headaches, emotional upsets, gastrointestinal disturbances, feelings of agitation, and pressure. September 1 1, 2001, was a day of acute stress for many people. Even for persons not directly involved in the terrible events of that day, many experienced the stress that comes from feeling that events are not under control (Peterson & Seligman, 2003).
• Episodic acute str ess is more serious, in the sense that it refers to repeated episodes of acute stress, such as a weekend job that is stressful or having to meet a deadline each month. Episodic acute stress can lead to migraines, hypertension, stroke, anxiety, depression, or serious gastrointestinal distress.
• Traumatic stress refers to a massive instance of acute stress, the ef fects of which can reverberate for years or even a lifetime (e.g., Bunce, Larsen, & Peterson, 1995). Traumatic stress dif fers from acute stress mainly in terms of the symptoms associated with the stress response. This collection of
symptoms, called posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), is a syndrome that occurs in some persons following the experience of or witnessing life-threatening events, such as military combat, natural disasters, terrorist incidents, serious accidents, or violent personal assaults such as rape. Many persons in the United States experienced symptoms of PTSD after the September 11 terrorist tragedy. A recent study of refugees fleeing the war i Kosovo found that over 60 percent of them showed symptoms of PTSD (Ai, Peterson, Ubelhor, 2002). People who suf fer from PTSD often relive the experience through nightmares or intense flashbacks, have di ficulty sleeping have physical complaints, have flattened emotions, and feel detached o estranged from others. These symptoms can be severe enough and last long enough to significantly impair the person s daily life, such as having trouble with personal relationships or dif ficulty holding down a job • Chronic stress is another serious form of stress. It refers to stress that does not end. Day in and day out, chronic stress grinds us down until our resistance is gone. Serious systemic illnesses, such as diabetes, decreased immune system functioning, or cardiovascular disease, can result from chronic stress.
Health psychologists believe that stress has additive effects; that is, the effects of stress add up and accumulate in a person over time. Stress af fects each person differently. We each perceive demands and pressures dif ferently and have dif ferent resources or coping skills. Such individual dif ferences in the stress process form a core issue for psychologists who study personality and health.
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It seems like you hear it all the time from nearly every one you know I'm SO stressed out!? Pressures abound in this world today. Those pressures cause stress and anxiety, and often we are ill-equipped to deal with those stressors that trigger anxiety and other feelings that can make us sick. Literally, sick.