The Effects of Stress on the Body
Generally we feel stress when too many demands are placed on us and we believe that we do not have adequate coping skills or the resources to meet these demands.
As stress response is based upon our perception of a situation or event what is stressful for one person may be a welcomed challenge for someone else. Our bodies cannot tell the difference between actual physical threats and imagine threats.
There are several definitions of stress though Hans Seyle, the father of stress research who wrote the book, The Stress of Life, in 1956, defines stress as: “The body’s nonspecific response to a demand placed on it.”
Like most people you are probably familiar with stress. You know how stress feels for you.
Stress feels different for different people. When stressed you may feel as though you have:
- too much to do
- have feelings of pressure
- being overwhelmed
- out of control
- cannot relax or rest
- sensations of body tightness
- wanting to run away from it all
There are two main types of stress, acute and chronic.
Acute (in-the-moment) stress is rapid and brief.
This is a response to sudden danger like being confronted by an out of control car. In a matter of seconds your body goes through a series of physiological changes and gets ready for action.
You have a surge of energy and an urge to get out of the way. This is the equivalent of Fight or flight.
Some of the physical changes that occur during the stress response include:
- Increased focus
- Faster breathing
- Faster reaction time
- Increased blood pressure
- Increased heart rate
- Sharpened physical senses
- Tightened muscles.
The driver regains control of the car .The danger passes and you realize that you are safe.You discharge the excess energy and your body begins to relax.
Your body has completed the cycle of stress response. In a short while your body returns to balance again, this state is known as homeostasis.
Chronic stress is slow and constant.
This type of stress is very common in our civilized society. Chronic stress is when you’re nervous system is constantly on alert, as if danger were ever present.It is this form of stress that has the greatest impact on our health.
Chronic stress can come from a variety of sources in our modern lives. For example, your environment, or your thoughts, or lifestyle habits.
Micro -Stressors are a common day form of chronic stress
Micro-stressors are predominantly a result of modern living. They are those regularly occurring little niggling hassles of life that you deal with daily such as;
- traffic jams,
- always being in a hurry or running late for a meeting,
- too many interruptions,
- boring work,
- being put on hold on the phone for long periods of time,
- being kept waiting for an appointment
- losing your keys
These can all be examples of possible micro–stressors if you let them. I am sure that you have experienced many these feelings on a daily basis. If you experience these regularly your body will not have a chance to recover and rest.
Ultimately the long term effect of the accumulation of these niggling micro-stressors has the same negative impact on your health as experiencing a major stressful event.
Again the good news about micro-stressors is that we can learn to change our reactions to these events. Essentially much of the stress effects of these little events is in what we make of them via our thinking.
When you are frequently reacting to preserved stressful situations your body never gets a chance to return to homeostasis and recuperate. Medical researchers have verified that the effect of chronic stress on our body is significant.
Stress is classified as a significant contributing factor in 90% of illnesses. It is implicated in the development of cardio-vascular disease, cancer, obesity, high blood pressure, dementia and poor immune function to name a few.
You can’t avoid stress or get rid of it completely. However you can minimize some stressful situations and you can learn to cope with stress more effectively.
There are many simple ways that we can dissipate the effects of stress on our bodies:-
Improper breathing is not only a symptom of stress; it can also be a cause of stress. Fast shallow breathing results in your body not receiving enough oxygen.
By becoming aware of your breathing and learning to breathe slowly and deeply you can reduce your stress levels and become more relaxed.
Focusing on the breathe balances our oxygen levels in the body but it it serves to slow the brain wave patterns which in turn slows our heart rate and creates a relaxation response. This is why so much focus is placed on learning to breathe correctly when learning stress reduction techniques.
Additional ways to further reduce the effects of stress in your body and create a calmer appraoch to living include:-
- Engaging in regular physical activity,
- eating a wide variety of healthy foods,
- doing activities that we find are fun and relaxing
These are all simple things that you can do to discharge stress, relax and let your body regenerate.
Or you could learn some relaxation techniques and discover what your emotional triggers to certain situations are.
For help and guidance in dealing with your stress please see Stress Reduction Training, Mindset Change Techniques or contact Sonja.