However, continued exposure to stress results in a decline in the body's overall level of biological functioning because of the constant secretion of stress-related hormones. Over time, stressful reactions can promote deterioration of body tissues such as blood vessels and the heart. Ultimately, we become more susceptible to disease as our ability to fight off infection is lowered (Brydon et al., 2004; Dean-Borenstein, 2007; Ellins et al., 2008)
On a psychological level, high levels of stress prevent people from adequately coping with life. Their view of the environment can become clouded making minor criticism made by a friend get blown out of proportion. At the highest level of stress, emotional responses may be so extreme that people are unable to act at all. People under a lot of stress also become less able to deal with new stressors.
In short, stress affects us in multiple ways. It may increase the risk that we will become ill, it may directly cause illness, it may make us less able to recover from a disease, and it may reduce our ability to cope with future stress (Gurunji & Roethel-Wendorf, 2009).
Stress affects our memory . . . Studies have found a decrease in the ability to use working memory and to retrieve memories in individuals who experience ongoing, high stress levels (Oei, et al., 2006; Dolbier, Smith & Steinhardt, 2007; Lundberg, 2011).
Stress is a personal thing. What excites one might traumatize another. Some people find bungee jumping off a bridge exciting. It all depends on a person's perception of the activity. A person must perceive an event as threatening or challenging and must not have all of the resources needed to deal with it effectively for it to be stressful. The same event may sometimes be stressful and at other times provoke no stressful reaction at all. For instance, a young man may experience stress when he's turned down for a date if he attributes the refusal to his un-attractiveness or unworthiness. But if he attributes it to some factor unrelated to his self-esteem, such as a previous commitment by the person he asked, the refusal may create no stress at all. Hence, a person's interpretation of events plays an important role in determining what is stressful (Folkman & Moskowitz, 2000; Friborg et. al,; Giacobbi, et al., 2005).
There are three general types of stressors: cataclysmic events, personal stressors, and daily hassles:
Cataclysmic events are strong stressors that occur suddenly, affecting many people at once like a natural disaster. Interestingly these events actually produce less stress in the long run than do events that initially are not as devastating because natural disasters have a clear resolution. Once they are over, people can look to the future knowing that the worst is behind them. Also, the stress induced by cataclysmic events is shared by others who also experienced the disaster. Such sharing permits people to offer one another social support and a firsthand understanding of the difficulties that others are going through (Benight, 2004; Hobfoll et al., 1996; Yesilyaprak, Kisac, & Sanlier, 2007).
The second major category of stressor is the personal stressor which includes major life events such as the death of a parent or spouse, the loss of one's job, a major personal failure, or even something positive such as getting married. Personal stressors typically produce an immediate major reaction that soon tapers off. For example, stress arising from the loss of a loved one tends to be greatest just after the time of death, but people begin to feel less stress and are better able to cope with the loss over time (Compas & Wagner, 1991).
Daily hassles are the third major category of stressor. Exemplified by being interrupted too often or having too many things to do, daily hassles are the minor irritations of life that most of us face time and time again. Another type of daily hassle is a long-term, chronic problem, such as experiencing dissatisfaction with school or a job, being in an unhappy relationship, or living in crowded quarters without privacy (Bhatia & Dey, 2011; McIntyre, Korn, & Matsuo, 2008; Weinstein et al., 2004).
By themselves, daily hassles do not require much coping or even a response on the part of the individual, although they certainly produce unpleasant emotions and mood. Yet they add up -- and ultimately they may take as great a toll as a single, more stressful incident does. In fact, the number of daily hassles people face is positively correlated with psychological symptoms and health problems such as flu, sore throat, and backaches.
How do we combat the daily hassles in life? With uplifts! Uplifts are minor positive events that make us feel good, even if only temporarily. Uplifts range from relating well to a companion to finding one's surroundings pleasing. What is especially intriguing about uplifts is that they are negatively correlated with people's psychological health: The greater the number of uplifts we experience, the fewer the psychological symptoms we report (Chamberlain & Zika, 1990; Jain, Mills, & Von Kanel, 2007; Ravindran et al., 2002).
Becoming aware of the small stuff and arming ourselves with coping techniques for combating minor stressors in life before they build up to harmful levels is key to creating a healthy lifestyle. The first line of defense is positive thinking or self-talk. Simple statements such as "I can do this" or "I'll take it one step at a time" is all that might be needed for tackling a perceived problem and turning it into a minor challenge, while alleviating stress. Our second line of defense? Arming ourselves with effective relaxation techniques like meditation or breathing. Let's take thefour-count box breathing technique for instance . . . When confronted with a hassle, simply take a deep, four-count inhalation from the nose (hold gently for a count of four) then take a deliberate four-count exhalation from the mouth (hold for four counts at the bottom) and repeat four times. That should do the trick. Finally, after overcoming a daily hassle, remember to do something enjoyable, even if it's for a few minutes. Brew a fresh cup of tea, take an invigorating walk, do a crossword puzzle, make a few catch-up phone calls, or indulge in a movie. Small pleasures can be the minor positive events allowing us to uplift our mind, body, and soul as we promote health and wellness.