Stress is a physiological response connected to an external event. In order for the cycle of stress to begin, there must be a stressor. This is usually some kind of external circumstance, like a work deadline or a scary medical test. “Stress is defined as a reaction to environmental changes or forces that exceed the individual’s resources,” Dr. Greenberg said.

In prehistoric times, stress was a natural response to a threat, like hearing a predator in the bushes. Today, it still prompts a behavioral response, firing up your limbic system and releasing adrenaline and cortisol, which help activate your brain and body to deal with the threat, Dr. Greenberg explained. Symptoms of stress include a rapid heart rate, clammy palms and shallow breath. Stress might feel good at first, as the adrenaline and cortisol flood your body, Dr. Marques said. You might have experienced the benefits of stress as you raced through traffic to get to an appointment, or pulled together an important assignment in the final hour. That’s called “acute stress,” and the rush wore off when the situation was resolved (i.e. you turned in your assignment).

Chronic stress, on the other hand, is when your body stays in this fight-or-flight mode continuously (usually because the situation doesn’t resolve, as with financial stressors or a challenging boss). Chronic stress is linked to health concerns such as digestive issues, an increased risk of heart disease and a weakening of the immune system.

  • Get exercise. This is a way for your body to recover from the increase of adrenaline and cortisol.

  • Get clear on what you can and can’t control. Then focus your energy on what you can control and accept what you can’t.

  • Don’t compare your stress with anyone else’s stress. Different people respond differently to stressful situations.

Remember: Stress is a biological response that is a normal part of our lives.

Source: The New York Times, The Difference Between Worry, Stress and Anxiety