What is this thing called “Stress”? Defining stress is much like defining happiness. Everyone knows what it is, but no one can agree on a single definition. Stress can be a driver (Eustress) and it can cause burnout (Distress).
The Signs of Stress When in fight-or-flight mode, the physiological system goes into high gear. The sympathetic nervous system, one of the two branches of the autonomic nervous system, produces changes in the body. The hypothalamus, stimulates the pituitary, a small gland near the base of the brain. It releases a hormone into the bloodstream called adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). When that hormone reaches the adrenal glands, they in turn produce extra adrenalin (also known as epinephrine) along with other hormones called glucocorticoids. (Cortisol is one.)
This biochemical domino effect causes other remarkable changes in the body:
The heart rate speeds up, and the blood pressure rises. (More blood is pumped to the muscles and lungs.)
The breath gets more rapid, and the nostrils flare, causing an increased supply of air.
The digestion slows down.
The blood is directed away from the skin and internal organs and shunted to the brain and skeletal muscles. The muscles tense.
The blood clots more quickly, to be ready to repair any damage to the arteries.
The pupils widen.
The liver converts glycogen into glucose to supply the system with quick energy.
While experiencing stress, the entire body undergoes a dramatic series of physiological changes to be prepared for a life-threatening emergency. Stress, way back, was nature’s way of keeping men alive.
What makes stress such a problem is, that stress can be continuous. Modern life demands a lot, and keeping up with these demands means lots of stress.
Illustrations from Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain and Illness, by Jon Kabat-Zinn
An important part of managing stress is to know what stress looks like. Stress responses can take different forms: bodily changes, emotional changes, and behavioral changes. Stress is a Body-Mind-Soul Process that the nervous system initiates when it come in contact with physical, emotional or mental stimuli that it believes to be threatening to us.
Evolutionary there are four stress responses meant to facilitate survival while faced with acute stress:
During these Stress Responses one cannot … … digest food. … think with the cognitive parts of the brain (reason), but rather with the limbic system (emotional). … integrate information/learn. … protect against viruses and bacteria or repair body tissue.
The responses are the same in acute and in chronically stressful situations!
Image from etsu.edu.
“The mind can go either direction under stress—toward positive or toward negative: on or off. Think of it as a spectrum whose extremes are unconsciousness at the negative end and hyperconsciousness at the positive end. The way the mind will lean under stress is strongly influenced by training.” -Frank Herbert-
"Stress is the trash of modern life — we all generate it but if you don't dispose of it properly, it will pile up and overtake your life." -Terri Guillemets-