Stress is often defined as a bodily response to the demands of life. But there are also emotional and mental aspects of stress. It is experienced as thoughts and feelings as well as in the body. Another way to define stress could be as an internal and conditioned response to external pressures or stressors.
The stress response is often immediate and uncontrollable. Someone with high stress levels may experience these physical aspects several times throughout the day. Consistently high levels of stress can cause people to develop physical conditions such as hypertension, stroke, diabetes, chronic pain, and heart attacks.
Stress is not always caused by a negative event. Some positive life experiences can be just as stress-inducing as negative ones.
Individuals may start using an unhealthy coping mechanism such as drug use to lessen physical, mental, or emotional pain caused by stress. However, continued self-medicating or self-soothing may then lead to a reliance on this coping mechanism for dealing with stress. In the case of addiction, this can lead to more stressful life events, like physical illness or unemployment. Other unhealthy coping mechanisms may cause people to develop mental health issues as a result of feeling hopeless, isolated or ashamed.
Therapy can help people identify an unhealthy coping mechanism for stress and develop a healthy one to use instead. If a person uses an unhealthy coping mechanism for dealing with long-term stress, they can potentially end up with a secondary mental health issue.