STRESS is the trash of modern life – we all generate it, but if you don’t dispose of it properly, it will pile up & overtake your life (Danzae Pace)
Stress is defined as anything that threatens the health of the body or has an adverse effect on it’s functioning, such as injury, disease, depression or worry.
Constant stress brings about hormonal changes within the body and also reduces the immune function. What is important is how we respond to it.
Where potential stress loads cannot be reduced, it is vital that we attempt to react differently, so that tension is released instead of bring internalised. Stress is cumulative, and we become less able to cope with it’s symptoms over time.
There are endless lists as to what causes stress, and these are relevant to different individuals – this could be due to a specific personality type – and this would then affect people in different ways. Emotions such as guilt, resentment, self- pity, self- loathing, anger, depression, anxiety & brooding over conflicts are all causes of cumulative stress unless they are harmlessly discharged.
There are 2 types of stress: EUSTRESS & DISTRESS.
Eustress is essential – as it is needed to ensure maximal growth & development – involving the embrace of both supportive & challenging events equally and simultaneously.
Distress – this involves perceiving challenging events without equally & simultaneously supporting the events. Distress can erode productivity and initiate chaos in any one or more areas of our lives.
Physical Effects of Stress
The body has a unique adaption system to cope with stress. The hypothalamus responds to stress by initiating the General Adaption Syndrome (GAS) via 2 pathways.
First the SYMPATHETIC nervous system affecting the internal organs triggering the adrenalin release.
The second is the response from the brain – hormones which stimulate a variety of hormones from the outer layer of the adrenal glands.
The first response is known as the fight, flight or freeze response – where the body gears up to physically prepare to fight back or flee. When it is not adequately dealt with and exercised it accumulates and leads to physical illness.
The follow physiological sequence occurs:
All muscles tense up, increasing the levels of lactic acid & anxiety levels rise.
Sugar is released for extra energy & the adrenal glands excrete more adrenalin, increasing the heart rate. Increased blood flow provides nutrients to the muscles and improves alertness. Blood supply to non-essential organs is reduces due to vaso-constriction – thus raising the blood pressure.
The spleen puts out more blood into the circulation, further increasing blood pressure. Respiration increases so to raise blood oxygen levels for the brain and muscles to be able to react. Pupils dilate to facilitate “sharper” improved vision & the pores on the skin dilate to initiate the body’s cooling effect. During this “alarm” state digestion is reduced, salivary glands halt thus giving the dry mouth effect. The kidneys slow down urine production due to blood flow restriction & the immune system activity is reduced. Where there is an adequate response – then all returns to normal.
However if stress is not released, the body enters a “resistance stage” where many of the alarm responses become chronic. The hypothalamus attempts to regulate however this becomes a hormonal regulator from the pituitary & adrenal glands rather than via the CNS. Hormones remained altered and the adrenal glands conserve sodium in order to maintain a normal blood pressure. Blood sugar disturbances are also evident in erratic attempts to meet the required demands in emotional crisis. Patients present with periodic sugar cravings, irritability, headaches and sometime the shakes.
Other symptoms in the resistance stage are:
- Chronic Fatigue, disturbed sleep patterns
- Eating disorders – loss of appetite / over indulgence
- Nervous disorders – Nail biting, inability to sit still, headaches, palpitations
- Emotional disturbances – anger / easy to cry, anxiety, low self-esteem
- Inability to plan forward or coping with work load
- Unexplained pains – abdomen , chest
- Allergies – auto immune disease may develop
- Low sex drive, periodic hot flushes & irritation at being touched
As the adrenal glands weaken further, they get tiered of trying to conserve sodium, then the potassium levels increase causing fluid retention, weakness & cramps. Sometime dizziness and low blood pressure are evident, emotional & nervous system disturbances worsen along with increased fatigue and sleep disorders. By this stage serious efforts to combat stress become essential. The resistance stage allows the body to continue fighting after the effects of the alarm stage have worn off. This stage is reversible if attention is paid to diet, exercise & stress relief techniques. Some patients stay in this stage for as long as 10 years, however if drugs are used to suppress stress, the onset of the exhaustion stage will be more intense & rapid.
The Exhaustion phase is critical – where the body just gives up and can no longer cope with stress & the adrenal glands are worn out. Unless this stage is rapidly reversed, the prognosis is serious – leading to potential stroke, heart attack, ulcers, cancer and / or diabetes.
Types of Stress
- Mental – Responsibilities, financial / career, long working hours, perfectionism.
- Emotional – self attitude, imbalance in relationships, anger, fear, sadness, betrayal, bereavement.
- Psycho-spiritual – life’s goals, spiritual alignment, imbalance / lack in spiritual nurturing
- Physical – Exercise, pregnancy, adolescence, menopause, aging
- Traumatic – Injury, surgery, infection
- Biochemical – Deficiencies of essential vitamins & minerals, amino acids, addictions, genetic disorders
- Toxic – Environmental pollutants, chemicals, addictions & Psychological draining environments.
The first step to coping with stress is to recognise there is a problem & what are the particular stress triggers. It is vital at this stage to get the patient to quietly assess their own situation and identify note the source / trigger.
Then they will need to answer 3 critical questions:
- Is this short / long term?
- Can I control this issue or do I need to focus on controlling the reaction to it?
- Can I set limits for myself / others that may help resolve this issue?
Ultimately the patient has to recognise the issue, attempt to find an immediate answer as to what & then take the responsibility to alter it to ensure a healthy positive outcome.
When relating stress to the work place – it could be due to a number of issues – lack of support structures, work overload, inability to cope with demands and unrealistic deadlines, and these trigger the stress response in the body physically while at the same time depleting the mental ability to cope. It becomes a vicious cycle where inevitably it begins to spill over and impact on the persons home and personal life – this is where the balance becomes critical for coping. In todays’ fast paced lifestyle, it appears to be the norm to have high stress levels, but learning to recognise & cope are not given the credit that it should.
A holistic approach is required to regain the homeostasis required for optimal physical & mental functioning.