The “fight-or-flight” reaction to stress results in easily recognized physical responses: a faster heart beat; rapid, shallow breathing; increased perspiration. However, the signs of chronic, long-term stress are more subtle and harder to recognize. Stress affects us systemically – which is to say, all over. So, over time, effects may found in any part of the body. Each person has his own level of stress that can be tolerated and once that threshold is reached, continuing stress may cause a breakdown in body functioning.
Estimates vary, but somewhere between 75 and 90% of all visits to primary care physicians in America are due to stress-related conditions. Stress has been implicated as a factor in stroke, heart attack, heart disease, and a host of other problems.
Even so, the “experts” have no clear, agreed-upon definition of stress. That’s because stress is a highly personal thing. Some people can take more of it than others; some people even seem to thrive on it! And stress is important in our lives, not only as a signal of possible impending danger but also because it’s stress that provides excitement and joy in living. There is bad stress (distress) and there is good stress (eustress). So you don’t want to rid yourself of stress – you want to manage it.