Stress is the body's natural response to threatening situations, and it affects everyone. Stress can be good, like buying a new home, or bad, like mounting debt. Either way, your body and mind react to such situations with a heightened state of readiness, which is called the "fight or flight" response. This reaction causes your brain to make hormones including adrenaline and cortisol.

Adrenaline gives you more energy by increasing your heart rate and blood pressure. Cortisol increases the amount of glucose in your blood and tamps down body functions that might be harmful in a fight or flight situation, such as digestion and reproduction. This can help you perform well on a test or at a sporting event; but it can also:

Your body and mind's response to a stressful event is designed to end when the event is over. But many of the things that cause stress, such as work, family, and relationships, go on for a long time, increasing the risk of chronic stress. Stress becomes chronic when your body does not shut off its stress response, so you are always in a heightened state of readiness. This affects your immune system and can lead to mental and physical health problems.

Stress disorders are severe reactions to stress that can happen as a result of trauma, such as witnessing a death, or experiencing serious injury. People with stress disorders feel intense:

Acute stress disorder happens soon after the traumatic event and lasts for a month or less. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) lasts for more than 3 months and may begin within a few days of an event, or may happen later, sometimes as long as 30 to 40 years after an event.

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Review Date: 12/9/2014  

Reviewed By: Steven D. Ehrlich, NMD, Solutions Acupuncture, a private practice specializing in complementary and alternative medicine, Phoenix, AZ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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