We have all read reports in the newspapers or heard stories from friends about how people in their thirties or even twenties works so hard neglecting their diet and health that his heart finally rebels and ‘attacks’ him one fine day! Fact of the matter is that he just couldn’t take the stress anymore. Stress kills and there is no two ways about that. But mind you, stress does not always come in the form of a heart attack but also affects our cardiovascular system, our immune system, our nervous system, our digestive system and also our overall state of physical and emotional well being. The negative effects of stress aren’t intangible and does not exist only in the mind. Stress creates real and measurable biological and neurological changes that can drastically affect the body’s metabolic balance.
What is StressStress can be defined as any stimulus that disturbs or interferes with the normal physiological equilibrium of a living entity. Stress can be a result of fear or pain but it can also occur when one experiences too much of a good thing! Stress can be a cause of diseases but of course it can also be caused by disease. It is well nigh impossible to accurately pinpoint what constitutes stress because stress is different for every person. Some people especially those with a high metabolic rate thrive on stress. Stress is their prime motivator. These are the kind of people who usually juggle several projects all at once and function at peak levels when the deadline is nearing. These people seem to have a heightened capacity to deal with stress. Others mostly of the slow burner types prefer to handle life at a slower pace, one thing at a time with no unnecessary distractions.
The Various Stages of Stress
We surely cannot always avoid the distractions that life presents. However, the better we can understand stress, the better we will be able to learn to cope with it. Firstly please remember that stress is not necessarily a bad thing. Some types of stress could be motivating and positive. People who are always in high-stress, high-pressure situations such as actors, professional sports-persons and politicians know that the adrenaline rush that comes from being in stressful situations can impart to them a certain kind of high-voltage energy – a feeling of being on the edge and on top of their game. In the game of life, if you are a person who reacts positively to stress and your opponent does not, then you have an immediate edge.
Human beings are always under stress. It is an inescapable aspect of life. If there is no stress, there is no life. It’s only when the stress becomes distress and when it becomes intense and prolonged that it can become harmful and destructive to the body and can lead to physical and mental deterioration.
Decoding the Mechanics of Stress
Let us say that you are walking down a deserted street or a derelict part of your town late at night and you see a few menacing figures approaching towards you, your body’s alarm system goes into high gear. The sympathetic or the involuntary nervous system sends off a signal notifying your immune system of an impending assault. This is what triggers the flight-or-fight response within you. During this stage, the sympathetic nervous system works overtime resulting in a high metabolic rate. This in turn, results in the loss of certain minerals such as calcium and magnesium. The body may also use up it’s store of certain vitamins causing certain deficiencies to develop. The longer the stress remains, the better the chances that nutritional problems and deficiencies will result.
While the alarm reaction is on, the adrenal system responds by secreting adrenaline and cortisol. Your heart rate goes up and you can feel your heart pounding in your chest. Your lungs start to take in more oxygen in order to fuel your muscles should a flight become imminent. You are basically moving into a state of readiness to deal with an attack. You also respond by moving rapidly supported by the excess adrenaline and energy to get out of the way of danger.
As you run, you enter the resistance stage. You begin to think and to be aware of your surroundings. You also begin to recognize the source of your distress. You realize that there is no point in running blindly – you need to look for shelter or help or a way out of the situation. Your body’s metabolic rate is still high but it is beginning to return to a semblance of normalcy. Your adrenal glands are drawing energy and nutrients from reserves in your body. However if this stage continues, you risk running into big trouble.
If you have found help, your body enters the recovery stage. Most stressful situations end right here. Your problem is solved, the predator is vanquished and your metabolic rate returns to normal. But lets assume that the predator is only temporarily beaten and you know that the problem will return but you don’t know when. You are always looking over your shoulder waiting for it to return. Your body goes into the adaptation stage.
This is where differences in personalities come in the picture. Regardless of the stress being negative or positive, your body will have the same response. If you are someone who has the ability to take stress well, you will prepare yourself physically and mentally for the predator’s possible return. If you are unable to take stress well, you will spend most of your time worrying about the predator’s possible return. You may then end up with ‘diseases of adaptation’ such as ulcers and heart disease. Remember, everything has a breaking point. If the stress becomes highly intense and incessant, the body will exhaust itself. The reserves that the body was drawing from in the resistance stage will run out and the result is that you will succumb, collapse and be done in by the predator.
The stages of stress described above are a normal reaction in the body. Usually we progress rapidly from the alarm stage to the recovery stage. However we sometimes get stuck in one stage and because of that our bodies succumb to diseases. In fact, it has been estimated that almost 80 % of all illnesses are caused by stress-related disorders. These diseases range from migraine headaches, high blood pressure, ulcers, arthritis, asthma and eczema to eating disorders and heart disease.
Warning Signs That Stress is Building Up
1. Constant irritability
2. Inability to concentrate
3. Feelings of weakness or dizziness
4. Chronic Fatigue
6. Teeth Grinding
7. Constant Anxiety
8. Chronic Digestive Problems
10. Lower Back / Neck Pain
11. A change in eating habits – overeating or undereating
12. Frequent Accidents