Stress: emergence, consequences, therapies – the most important questions and answers

The most important questions and answers

Stress: how it occurs, what it does to your health and what countermeasures there are

You can practice coming down. But not all problems can be solved by yoga.

Stress has an important function – and yet it can lead to serious illnesses. Whether stress is harmful depends, among other things, on the duration and personal perception. An overview from the origin to counter-strategies.

How does stress arise?

Arguing with your partner, worrying about school grades, a bad flu – stress can arise for many reasons. Physical causes include heat, extreme cold and pain. Not having enough contact with other people also causes stress. Mathias Schmidt from the Max Planck Institute for Psychiatry explains: “Isolation and loneliness are stress-inducing because people depend on social interaction.” In other words: In order to stay mentally healthy, people usually need conversations and physical contact. If they lack both, stress arises. Not only too little contact, but also too much can be stressful. If you meet other people more than is good for you, can also struggle with stress. How many contacts people need varies greatly.

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“Stress becomes particularly intense when a situation appears uncontrollable for those affected and is not limited in time,” says Schmidt. One such situation was the corona pandemic, for example. A Forsa survey confirmed what many people may have long suspected: stress increased enormously. It was unclear how long the world would have to remain in lockdown and what would help against the virus. In the study, many respondents stated that they suffered from the lack of contact with friends.

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How does the body react to stress?

When you are stressed, your body releases the hormones adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol. People usually cannot feel the effects of cortisol. The effect of adrenaline and noradrenaline, on the other hand, does: blood pressure rises and the heart beats faster. Many people become nauseous, dizzy, have a sore head and have diarrhea. This can be uncomfortable, but the stress hormones ensure that the body provides enough energy to react to potentially threatening situations. To put it simply: a person who is freezing has more of the energy they need to turn on the heating or start a fire to protect themselves from the cold due to the stress hormones.

The hormones also affect memory. In stressful situations, people are particularly good at remembering details, but are less able to remember what they actually know. This is how the famous blackout occurs in exams. “Students are often not able to recall knowledge well during exams, but they can remember the situation very well afterwards,” says Schmidt.

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What types of stress are there?

Experts distinguish between acute and chronic stress. In acute stress, mainly adrenaline and noradrenaline are released, which put the body on alert. After the stressful situation, the body calms down again. When people are chronically stressed, they are constantly tense. Those affected have permanently more cortisol in their blood. Chronically stressed people often feel permanently depressed.

Does stress make you sick?

Acute stress tends to be less dangerous to health — it can even be good. For example, many people experience stress on a date, but enjoy it. Stress expert Schmidt even goes so far as to say: “Without stress, life would be very boring.” Stress also helps to master challenges. But there is also acute stress that is unhealthy, for example in traumatic situations such as violent crime.

Overall, chronic stress is a greater health hazard. Those who are permanently stressed are more likely to develop mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety disorders and schizophrenia. High blood pressure and diabetes are also more likely. Chronically stressed people often suffer from sleep disorders.

What helps against stress?

Psychologists recommend exercising regularly to avoid ending up in a spiral of stress. Endurance sports are particularly helpful. Relaxation techniques can also help in stressful phases. Manja Loth works at a Berlin counseling center and supports people who are struggling with stress and psychological problems. She advises not to overestimate the effect of relaxation techniques: “Yoga and meditation can offer a balance, but they don’t solve any fundamental problems.”

What helps with stress at work?

In the experience of consultant Loth, quarrels and competition are much more often responsible for stress at work than a high workload. In order to reduce stress, it is important to solve these problems, for example through an open discussion. Since the causes of social stress vary greatly from person to person, individual solutions must always be found.

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In order not to get into a spiral of stress through work itself, people should make sure not to work too much overtime and not to go to work sick. Experts also advise, if possible, not to answer e-mails after work and not to be available all the time.

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