What is stress?

Stress is our body’s response to any kind of pressure or threat from a situation or life event. What constitutes as stressful will vary from person to person, as we all perceive our environments differently.

When there is a real or perceived sense of danger the body’s ‘fight or flight’ response, or ‘stress response’ kicks in. This is the release of stress hormones to activate our immune system and allow us to get ready to fight the threat or flee from it.  Both are responses for protection. When working correctly you become alert, focused and energised to respond appropriately.  

How the fight or flight response occurs

Stress - fight response diagram

Sometimes the situation is not life-threatening, yet the stress response is appropriate as it is reacting to a pressure that we need to push through, for example when you hit the wall in a marathon or studying for an exam or job interview. In these situations, once the event has passed the body will return to its resting state, and there will be no negative effects on our health.

However, when we do not return to the resting state, that is when the persistent pressure on us, or we experience a series of negative events in succession, or we perceive or think about stressful situations, then we remain in the permanent state of fight or flight. In this state our body’s continue to produce and secret the stressor hormones, leading to chronic stress. Prolonged or chronic stress can be detrimental to both our physical and mental wellbeing.