Stress - Causes and Symptoms

Stress is a significant burden for the entire body and it can lead to development (Image: Andrey Popov /

“No time, I'm totally stressed” - this sentence occurs very often, because stress is part of everyday life for many people: One appointment after the other, trouble with the boss, overtime, business trips, constant availability, work-life balance , private conflicts and the constant feeling that “you haven't done enough yet” - these are just a few examples that cause rest breaks and moments of relaxation to be lost.


To a certain extent it is quite normal, because "positive stress" (eustress) increases attention, increases our performance and motivation - without harming the body. It only becomes difficult if this condition occurs too often or permanently and is not alleviated by suitable exercises and home remedies to reduce stress. Then we perceive it as negative (distress), feel threatened, overwhelmed and often experience physical consequences. Permanent negative overload increases the risk of (serious) health problems such as stomach problems, intestinal problems, high blood pressure, heart disease or back pain.

What is stress

Medically, stress (English: “pressure”, “strain”, (over) exertion) is defined as physical or emotional strain on the organism with certain stimuli, which are called stressors. These factors can be infections, operations, injuries and burns of a physical or psychological nature, such as stress from anger, fear and pressure to perform. The body reacts with increased stimulation of the sympathetic system with increased release of catecholamines (adrenaline and noradrenaline), also known as "stress hormones". The result is an increase in blood pressure, pulse and cardiac output.

Stress is a significant burden on the entire body and it can contribute to the development of various diseases. (Image: Andrey Popov /

Similar to fear, this mechanism is to be understood as an evolutionary protective reaction of the body that enables the person affected to mobilize all physical reserves in order to avoid a threatening situation through fight or flight. Nowadays, however, it is no longer the primeval predators that provoke a stress reaction. Nevertheless, 80% of Germans complain of stress.

It is not automatically negative, but basically a completely "normal" reaction to environmental stimuli. We humans even need challenges and a certain “dose” of stress in order to be motivated and effective at all. Because this "positive stress" (eustress) increases attention, promotes performance, increases self-esteem and creates feelings of happiness, for example when an exam has been passed or a project has been successfully completed - although this includes coping with professional tasks as well as can be about organizing a large family celebration.

Eustress does not harm the body. But as with everything else, the right amount is also important here, because if a stressed state is permanent or if the tension cannot be balanced, this quickly develops into negative stress (dysstress). This usually puts a lot of strain on the body and causes the stressed person to feel threatened and overwhelmed. The thought “I can't do it” or a delayed move that leads to the fact that you may not be able to get to the interview on time is enough. As a result, fears arise and the knowledge that the task or the goal cannot be achieved or can only be achieved with tremendous effort - it comes to hectic and rash "blind actionism" and the person concerned tries with all means to the last energy -Mobilize reserves.

However, dysstress can also be triggered by being under-challenged. These can arise, for example, when daily work is primarily characterized by dull, inconsequential activities or monotonous routines. There is no sense (any more) in the work and instead it is eagerly carried on without achieving specific goals. As a result, those affected feel tired and exhausted after their work is done, even though the day was actually not that strenuous.

How is stress expressed?

If this occurs only briefly, it usually has no long-term negative effects on health. This is the case, for example, in everyday situations such as a surprising traffic jam on the way to work. If this state only lasts for a short time, the energy that was initially mobilized is accordingly not needed, but rather quickly breaks down again and does not harm the body. Stress can therefore be tolerated well over a certain period of time and in a certain “dose” - especially if regular physical compensation is provided in the form of relaxation and exercise.

Stress can lead to pain all over the body, as stress often leads to tension. (Image: staras /

However, if the overstrain becomes too strong or lasts too long, the energy reserves are quickly used up, which means that this negatively experienced distress, depending on its duration and intensity, can lead to physical and psychological problems. A survey conducted by the health insurance company DAK (DAK, “Resolutions for 2008” from 12/2007) should shed light on which symptoms are experienced. By far the most frequently mentioned stress symptom was “irritability” (67%). Other symptoms that plague more than half of the respondents are difficulty concentrating or nervousness (58%) and tension (54%). This is followed by insomnia, listlessness and headaches, digestive problems such as diarrhea or constipation and stomach pain.

If causative factors have a lasting effect on people and the condition becomes a permanent guest, this can also lead to more serious damage to health or functional derailments such as chronic high blood pressure, overproduction of gastric juice and vegetative disorders. Secondary diseases can include reduced blood flow to the coronary arteries, gastric mucosal inflammation, stomach ulcers, anxiety disorders and depression or exacerbate existing underlying ailments.

In addition, negative stress often leads to back pain and disorders in the cycle or in the sexual area. The risk of cardiovascular diseases (e.g. heart attack, stroke, coronary artery disease), lung diseases, infections and depression also increases with constant stress. Strong stress-related symptoms also suspected to lead to an increased risk of cancer.

How does stress come about?

Stress can be triggered by very different situations - so-called "stressors" - one person panics because he realizes that he cannot complete his task on time, another breaks out in a sweat and begins to tremble because he is about to do one Should give speech in front of a large audience. Some stressors, such as the death of a loved one, (threatened) unemployment or conflicts within the family mean negative stress for almost everyone. Other triggers, such as a surprising traffic jam or a visit too early, although the apartment has not yet been cleaned, does not automatically lead to negative stress for everyone, but is instead accepted with calm.

In a survey commissioned by Techniker Krankenkasse (TK, F.A.Z. Institute 2009), 1,014 Germans aged 14 and over were asked about frequent stress triggers. Work, school and studies took first place with 43%, followed by financial worries (27%), trips during rush hour (25%) and general conflicts (21%). Housework, raising children and looking after relatives were also mentioned (mainly by the female respondents).Another representative survey on the topic of stress identified health problems, financial worries, environmental influences and noise as well as the fear of war or terror as the front runner among the stress factors ( 2008).


How people deal with overload today depends largely on their personality and how they assess the condition affecting them. Eustress builds the tension, excitement and creativity necessary to cope with difficult tasks. Successfully coped with stressful situations, e.g. a passed exam, in turn lead to positive emotions and thus strengthen the immune system. While the adrenaline rush under great challenge can help one to get in high spirits and perform at their best, for others too much pressure to perform inhibits creative solutions. Neurobiologist Gerald Hüther from the University of Göttingen was able to visualize the latter fact using imaging methods.

Stress relief

In addition to talking to partners, friends and relatives, walking and cycling, sport seems to be an adequate and popular means of reducing stress. In the surveys already mentioned (DAK 2007; TK 2009), sport ranked among the top three when asked about preferred strategies for reducing stress. But be careful: people who do excessive sport are sometimes plagued by an increased susceptibility to infections because the body is not allowed sufficient phases of regeneration. This in turn stresses the organism and weakens the immune system. Here it is important to compensate for the respective degree of stress with appropriate breaks, so that the sport remains a stressful experience of a positive kind. (No)

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