Ahh… Stress! Every other page, every other person speaks about it. But don’t worry, I am not here to bore you with the same. Read on to know about stress that probably you didn’t know before!
Stress – A part of our lives existing in our literature since the 1930s. We having been using the term loosely to describe any unpleasant feeling or situation. It has become a part of our basic vocabularies and has entrenched our daily life. But what actually is stress? Despite the widespread use, stress is a vague concept that is difficult to define with precision.
Simply put, stress is a natural feeling for not being able to cope with specific demands and events. It’s our body’s natural defense against predators and danger. It floods the body with hormones which helps the system to evade or confront danger. In psychology language, this is called the fight-or-flight mechanism.
While stress is a regular part of life, it is important to understand the triggers and reactions play a huge role in reducing stress. However, if dealing with stress was as simple as avoiding stressful situations, it wouldn’t have been a big deal. But the problem arises since more often than not, stress is our reaction to situations we can’t avoid.
There is a lot of information about stress. But with that also comes the misconception on stress. Surprisingly the most common myths on stress have proven to be false. So, here are a few things that you should know about stress.
Not all stress is bad stress:
Of course, there is ‘Distress’ identified as “bad” stress. But did you know there is “Good” stress too? It’s called Eustress.
The anticipation of a first date, to make the best first impression makes you want to be more presentable and motivates you to be the best of your behavior.
Now imagine no Eustress, then what? Nothing excites you. Your first date is just another mundane meet. There is hardly anything that truly drives you to go that extra mile. Life would become boring and in more serious cases, it is highly possible to become depressed.
During the eustress response, oxytocin hormone is released which pushes people to seek or provide aid (McGonigal, 2014). Hence listen to your body. What feels good to your body, does good.
Stress – Distress = health risk
Stress pulls down our body functioning. The digestive and immune system finds it difficult to process when our body is under pressure. When under pressure, the blood pressure and pulse rate rapidly increase, hence bringing changes in our breathing speed. Our muscles become more tensed also raising our state of alertness, thus making it difficult for us to sleep. Researchers have also found that too much distress may result in a higher risk for coronary heart diseases.
It all lies in how you react to a different situation which determines the effect of stress on overall health. Some may have a strong response to a single stressor. While some others may experience several stressors in a row or at once.
The fight-or-flight response
The fight or flight response is an automatic response to any stressful or frightening event. This perception of threat (physical or mental), activates our sympathetic nervous system which triggers an acute stress response. This prepares our body to fight or flee. During this response, physical changes that occur during this response can cause a significant amount of wear and tear within our body, if the perception of stress persists.
Stages of stress
According to psychologists, there are three stages our body and mind handle stressors: alarm, resistance, and exhaustion. This concept is called the (GAS) General Adaption Syndrome.
Alarm occurs when we first perceive something as stressful – the immediate reaction. Our body is alarmed with increased heart rate, sweating, feeling anxious or tensed. This results in a burst of adrenaline in our system. This reaction is a part of our tendency towards ‘fight- or- flight’.
However, our body eventually attempts to return to normal balance. The parasympathetic nervous system tries to bring down our heart rate and physiological functioning, thus helping us handle more stress by reducing the sense of urgency. But if the stress persists, our body suffers failing to resist.
The final stage is exhaustion. Typically in this stage, our body feels let down and low energy. Prolonged exposure to stress depletes our body resources, resulting in wear and tear that suppresses the immune system and body functioning to deteriorate. This, however, can lead to a variety of health issues and cause illnesses.
Hormones add fuel to the fire
There are 3 major hormones that add to our reaction to stressors. The hormones are Adrenaline, Norepinephrine, and Cortisol.
Adrenaline is commonly known as the fight or flight hormone. It gives us a surge of energy along with increasing the heart rate. Primarily, this surge is to help us run away from a dangerous situation. This hormone is secreted is produced in the adrenal gland on receiving signals from our brain about a stressful situation.
Norepinephrine is a hormone similar to adrenaline. It increases arousal and alertness. It also increases restlessness and anxiety. This hormone triggers the release of glucose and increases blood flow to skeletal muscle (they produce all the movements of body parts in relation to each other) thus, reducing the blood flow to the gastrointestinal system (mouth, pharynx (throat), esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, rectum, and anus).
Cortisol hormone is released to allow the body to concentrate on stressful situations. It takes time for the body to feel the effects of cortisol in the face of stress. In survival mode, the optimal amount of this hormone can be life-saving but when the body continuously releases cortisol it can lead to serious issues. Too much of it can suppress the immune system, decrease libido, contribute to obesity, and more.
It seems like a stress-free is next to impossible. We all are living a jam-packed life with various obligations such as work, school, family commitment, and the list can go on.
Given all the negative effects distress can have on the body, it’s important to make relief a priority. However, if stress is getting your way affecting your health and happiness, talk to your doctor. Seek help!