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Stress, Positive and Negative
Stress is an extremely broad, and increasing hard to precisely define, term. It has some common ground in both biology and psychology and can impact, both positively and negatively, the human organism.
The concept of stress was introduced into western thought in the 1920s and 1930s when it was used to refer to biological or psychological forces that cause strain and interrupt what was then referred to as ‘homeostasis’ (physical or emotion equilibrium). This homeostasis was thought of more as an ideal state of being, rather than as an actually achievable state. This is due to the view that life is a constant series of emotional and environmental factors that disrupt the mind’s and body’s attempt to achieve this condition of homeostasis. Emotional strain or physical insult (an injury or illness) was viewed as a disruption of homeostasis, while the purposeful attempt to correct a situation was regarded as a move towards achieving homeostasis.
Whether stress is actually a cause, an effect, or a combination of the two in reaction to difficult situations is a source of debate. Either way, professionals generally view ‘stress’ as a ‘subjective’ factor in physical and mental health. ‘Subjective’ of course meaning that ‘stressful’ situations or events, e.g. tests at school, problems at work, or athletic competitions that one person might consider unbearable might be perceived by another person as merely a challenge to be overcome. On the other hand, severe, chronic or acute stresses; family problems, accidents, abuse, wartime military service, etc. can set the stage for serious mental health problems later in life.
Modern research has studied the phenomenon of stress and has gained a good knowledge of the physical and biochemical mechanisms that underlie, and are affected by stress. Usually perceived as a negative thing, ongoing stress seriously impacts both physical and mental health. However, temporary stressors, like anxiety about a test at school, giving a speech, or an artistic or athletic performance can actually be a positive in that it drives a person to make a maximum effort. While short-term stress can be a catalyst to improve performance in school, sports, work, etc. chronic (long term) stress can produce many physical manifestations; headaches, depression, asthma, back pain, fatigue, cardiac arrythmia, ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome and a general suppression of the human immune system leading to physical illnesses. Stress is also known to accelerate the aging process.
Stress is a fact of life in the modern world. It can propel us greater achievment, and it can cripple us with its physical and psychological side effects. The daily management of stress is important to the maintenance of both our physical and mental health. Some of the most effective stress management techniques that are readily available are regular exercise, sleeping well, keeping a regular schedule, eating a balanced diet and minimizing the use of alcohol and drugs. More severe, and chronic types of stress, i.e. post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD), abuse, family problems, and others can benefit greatly from work with a psychologist or psychiatrist. It is also quite beneficial to cultivate a good social life and spiritual life. There is no way to avoid stress in life, but it is possible to manage it constructively to the improvement of both mental and physical health.