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Stressed by Stress

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  • 0:32 Chronic Stressors
  • 0:48 Eustress and Distress
  • 1:14 General Adaptation Syndrome
  • 2:20 Effects of Chronic Stress
  • 3:10 Coping Strategies
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Balik
Most people have to deal with stress on a regular basis. But do you know what it's really doing to your body? Learn more about the reasons behind feeling stressed as well as common strategies to not let the stress get to you.

From small hassles, like trips to the Department of Motor Vehicles, to major events, such as wars, the threat of terrorist attacks and constant fear of losing our jobs, modern life presents us with stressors that can be both prolonged and difficult to escape. These are called chronic, or long-term, stressors. Now, not all stress is bad. For example, lifting weights puts stress on your muscles but can improve your overall health. Stress that has good effects is known as eustress. The prefix 'eu' means good. Bad stress, by contrast, is known as distress. And distress, especially chronic distress, can be harmful to your health. In this segment, we'll explore potential negative health effects of chronic stress and also coping mechanisms.

First, let's talk about the work of a scientist named Hans Seyle. Seyle was one of the first to study the effects of long-term stress. He theorized about what he called general adaptation syndrome. It describes three stages in reaction to long-term stress: alarm, resistance and exhaustion. Alarm is the stage in which stress hormones are released along the HPA-axis. Resistance is a stage during which the body tries to adapt to long-term stress and to return to pre-alarmed functioning. But when the stressor presents itself for a long time, our stress responses remain activated, and so it's difficult for our bodies to return to non-stressed states. The final stage is exhaustion, which can be both physical and mental. This stage can lead to illness, and ultimately, even death.

A major difference between responses to long-term and short-term stress is that, with long-term stress, the body cannot return to its pre-stressed state because levels of stress hormones, especially cortisol, remain elevated.

Chronic Stress is known to have negative health effects. They include:

  • Weakened immune system
  • Damage to DNA, which means our cells age faster than they otherwise might. A common example of this is greying hair.

Stress really can cause it, because it damages the cells responsible for hair color.

  • Heightened risk for heart disease
    • There are multiple reasons why stress increases your risk for heart disease. First, cortisol, the stress hormone released by adrenal glands, causes plaque buildup in the arteries. Stress also leads to higher blood pressure.

So, now that we've talked about some of the health risks associated with chronic stress, let's talk about some coping strategies. Although stress cannot be completely avoided, there are Coping Methods for Long-Term Stress that can reduce its negative effects.

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