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The lifestyle that we live today is very different to what we used to live 5-10 years ago. Today with the advent of Internet and globalization humans are expected to perform 24/7. I personally call this the evolution as E-Era, where-in Darwin’s Theory of “Survival of the fittest” is applicable. With the ever increasing demands from bosses, competition and family, we are bound to undergo tremendous pressure and stress. The effect of stress is fatal to a human and could result in stroke or heart failure.
So what is stress? Is it a disease? Is it a virus? What is it?
WHAT IS STRESS?
Stress is a normal physical response to events that make you feel threatened or upset your balance in some way. When you sense danger – whether it’s real or imagined – the body’s defense kick into high gear in a rapid, automatic process known as the “flight-or-flight” reaction, or the stress response.
The stress response is the body’s way of protecting you. When working properly, it helps you stay focused, energetic, and alert. In emergency situations, stress can save your life – giving you extra strength to defend yourself, for example, or spurring you to slam on the brakes to avoid an accident.
The stress response also helps you rise to meet challenges. Stress is what keeps you on your toes during a presentation at work, sharpens your concentration when you’re attempting the game-winning free throw, or drives you to study for an exam when you’d rather be watching TV.
But beyond a certain point, stress stops being helpful and starts causing major damage to your health, your mood, your productivity, your relationships, and your quality of life.
Stress is a physical, chemical or emotional factor causing mental tension; possible factor in causing disease. This is a condition or circumstance (not always adverse), which can disturb the normal physical and mental health of an individual. This demand on mind-body occurs when it tries to cope with incessant changes in life. A ‘stress’ condition seems ‘relative’ in nature.
THREE PHASES OF STRESS
1. Alarm phase – Acute stress
Acute stress is the most common form of stress. It comes from demand and pressures of the recent past and anticipated demands and pressures of the near future. Acute stress is thrilling and exciting in small does, but too much is exhausting. Overdoing on short-term stress can lead to psychological distress, tension headaches, upset stomach, and other symptoms.
Fortunately, acute stress symptoms are recognized by most people. It’s a laundry list of what has gone awry in their lives: the auto accident that crimples the car fender, the loss of an important contract, a deadline they’re rushing to meet, their child’s occasional problems at school, and so on.
Because it is short term, acute stress doesn’t have enough time to do the extensive damage associated with long-term stress.
2. Adaptation Phase – Episodic Acute Stress
There are those, however who suffer acute stress frequently, whose lives are so disordered that they are studies in chaos and crisis. They’re always in a rush, bust always late. If something can go wrong, it does. They take on too much, have too many irons in the fire, and can’t organize the slew of self-inflicted demands and pressures clamoring for their attention. They seem perpetually in the clutches of acute stress.
It is common for people with acute stress reactions to be over aroused, short-tempered, irritable, anxious, and tense. Often, they describe themselves as having “a lot of nervous energy.” The work becomes a very stressful place for them.
The cardiac prone, “Type A” personality described by cardiologists, have an “excessive competitive drive, aggressiveness, impatience, and a harrying sense of time urgency.” Such personality characteristics would seem to create frequent episodes of acute stress for the Type A individual. Meter Freidman and Ray Rosenman found Type A’s to be much more likely to develop coronary heart disease than Type B’s who shoe an opposite pattern of behavior.
The symptoms of episodic acute stress are the symptoms of extended over arousal: persistent tension headaches, migraines, hypertension, chest pain, and heart disease. Treating episodic acute stress requires intervention on a number of levels, generally requiring professional help, which may take many months.
Sufferers can be fiercely resistant to change. Only the promise of relief from pain and discomfort of their symptoms can keep them in treatment and on track in their recovery program.
While acute stress can be thrilling and exciting, chronic stress is not. This is the grinding stress that wears people away day after day, year after year. Chronic stress destroys bodies, minds and lives. It wreaks havoc through long-term attrition. It’s the stress of poverty, of dysfunctional families, of being trapped in an unhappy marriage or in a despised job or career.
Chronic stress comes when a person never sees a way out of a miserable situation. With no hope, the individual gives up searching for solutions.
Some chronic stresses stem from traumatic, early childhood experiences, that become internalized and remain forever painful and present. Some experiences profoundly affect personality. A view of the world, or belief system, is created that causes unending stress for the individual.
Chronic stress kills through suicide, violence, heart attach, stroke, and perhaps, even cancer. People wear down to a final, fatal breakdown. Because physical and mental resources are depleted through long-term attrition, the symptoms of chronic stress are difficult to treat and may require extended medical as well as behavioral treatment and stress management.
THREE BASIC CATEGORIES OF STRESS:
Physical – demands, fatigue, pushing bodies beyond limits.
Emotional – reaction to certain events – tension, irritability, emotional events.
Chemical – environment that we live, chemicals that we ingest or exposed to, air or food. Chemical strain on our bodies lead to chemicals stress.
PHYSIOLOGICAL EFFECTS OF STRESS:
The stress response is meant to protect and support us. When faced with a threat, whether it is to our physical safety or emotional equilibrium. The body’s defenses kick into gear in a process known as the flight-or-fight response.
The Anterior Hypothalamus produces sympathetic arousal of the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS). The ANS is an automatic system that controls the heart, lungs, stomach, blood vessels and glands. Due to its action we do not need to make any conscious effort to regulate our breathing or heart beat. The ANS consists of two different systems: the sympathetic nervous system conserves energy levels. It increases bodily secretions such as tears, gastric acids, mucus and saliva which help to defend the body and help digestion. Chemically, the parasympathetic system sends its messages by a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine which is stored at nerve endings.
Unlike the parasympathetic nervous system which aids relaxation, the sympathetic nervous system prepares the body for action. In a stressful situation, it quickly does the following:
1. Increases strength of skeletal muscles
2. Decreases blood clotting time
3. Increases heart rate
4. Increases sugar and fat levels
5. Reduces intestinal movement
6. Inhibits tears, digestive secretions
7. Relaxes the bladder
8. Dilates pupils
9. Increases perspiration
10. Increases mental activity
11. Inhibits erection/vaginal lubrication
12. Constricts most blood vessels but dilates those in heart/leg/arm Muscles
The main sympathetic neurotransmitter is called noradrenaline which is released at the nerve ends. The stress response also includes the activity of the adrenal, pituitary and thyroid glands.
Lying close to the hypothalamus in the brain is an endocrine gland called the pituitary. In a stressful situation, the anterior hypothalamus activates the pituitary. The pituitary releases adrenocorticotrophic hormone (ACTH) into the blood which then activates the outer part of the adrenal gland, the adrenal cortex. The then synthesizes cortisol which increases arterial blood pressure, mobilizes fats and glucose from the adipose (fat) tissues, reduces allergic reactions, reduces inflammation and can decrease lymphocytes that are involved in dealing with invading particles or bacteria. Consequently, increased cortisol levels over a prolonged period of time lowers the efficiency of the blood volume and subsequently blood pressure. Unfortunately, prolonged arousal over a period of time due to stress can lead to essential hypertension.
The pituitary also releases thyroid stimulating hormone which stimulates the thyroid gland, which is located in the neck, to secrete thyroxin. Thyroxin increases the metabolic rate, raises blood sugar levels, increases respiration/heart rate/blood pressure/and intestinal motility. Increased intestinal motility can lead to diarrhea. (it is worth noting that an over-active thyroid gland under normal circumstances can be a major contributory factor in anxiety attacks. This would normally require medication.)
Unfortunately, the prolonged effect of the stress response is that the body’s immune system is lowered and blood pressure is raised which may lead to essential hypertension and headaches. The adrenal gland may malfunction which can result in tiredness with dizziness; and disturbances of sleep.
Below are some of the symptoms of stress. Please note that these symptoms can also occur with a range of medical or psychological disorders. When in doubt, do consult your doctor or consultant.
RESPONCES TO STRESS:
AFTER PHYSIOLOGICAL EFFECT: HOW TO REDUCE, PREVENT, AND COPE WITH STRESS
It may seem that there’s nothing you can do about your stress level. The bills aren’t going to stop coming, there will never be more hours in the day for all your errands, and your career or family responsibilities will always be demanding. But you have a lot more control than you might think. In fact, the simple realization that you’re in control of your life is the foundation of stress management.
Managing stress is all about taking charge: taking charge of your thoughts, your emotions, your schedule, your environment, and the way you deal with problems. The ultimate goal is a balanced life, with time for work, relationships, relaxation, and fun – plus the resilience to hold up under pressure and meet challenges head on.
Stress management starts with identifying the sources of stress in your life. This isn’t as easy as it sounds. Your true sources of stress aren’t always obvious, and it’s all too easy to overlook your own stress-inducing thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Sure, you may know that you’re constantly worried about work deadlines. But maybe it’s your procrastination, rather than the actual job demands, that leads to deadline stress.
To identify your true sources of stress, look closely at your habits, attitude, and excuses:
Until you accept responsibility for the role you play in creating or maintaining it, your stress level will remain outside your control.
Start a stress journal
A stress journal can help you identify the regular stressors in your life and the way you deal with them. Each time you feel stressed, keep track of it in your journal. As you keep a daily log, you will begin to see patterns and common themes. Write down:
Look at how you currently cope with stress
Think about the ways you currently manage and cope with stress in your life. Your stress journal can help you identify them. Are your coping strategies healthy or unhealthy, helpful or unproductive? Unfortunately, many people cope with stress in ways that compound the problem.
Unhealthy ways of coping with stress
These coping strategies may temporarily reduce stress, but they cause more damage in the long run:
Learning healthier ways to manage stress
If your methods of coping with stress aren’t contributing to your greater emotional and physical health, it’s time to find healthier ones. There are many healthy ways to manage and cope with stress, but they all require change. You can either change the situation or change your reaction. When deciding which option to choose, it’s helpful to think of the four A’s: avoid, alter, adapt, or accept.
Since everyone has a unique response to stress, there is no “one size fits all” solution to managing it. No single method works for everyone or in every situation, so experiment with different techniques and strategies. Focus on what makes you feel calm and in control.
Dealing with Stressful Situations: The Four A’s:
Stress management strategy #1: Avoid unnecessary stress
Not all stress can be avoided, and it’s not healthy to avoid a situation that needs to be addressed. You may be surprised, however, by the number of stressors in your life that you can eliminate.
Stress management strategy #2: Alter the situation
If you can’t avoid a stressful situation, try to alter it. Figure out what you can do to change things so the problem doesn’t present itself in the future. Often, this involves changing the way you communicate and operate in your daily life.
Stress management strategy #3: Adapt to the stressor
If you can’t change the stressor, change yourself. You can adapt to stressful situations and regain your sense of control by changing your expectations and attitude.
Adjusting Your Attitude
How you think can have a profound affect on your emotional and physical well-being. Each time you think a negative thought about yourself, your body reacts as if it were in the throes of a tension-filled situation. If you see good things about yourself, you are more likely to feel good; the reverse is also true. Eliminate words such as "always," "never," "should," and "must." These are telltale marks of self-defeating thoughts.
Stress management strategy #4: Accept the things you can’t change
Some sources of stress are unavoidable. You can’t prevent or change stressors such as the death of a loved one, a serious illness, or a national recession. In such cases, the best way to cope with stress is to accept things as they are. Acceptance may be difficult, but in the long run, it’s easier than railing against a situation you can’t change.
Stress management strategy #5: Make time for fun and relaxation
Beyond a take-charge approach and a positive attitude, you can reduce stress in your life by nurturing yourself. If you regularly make time for fun and relaxation, you’ll be in a better place to handle life’s stressors when they inevitably come.
Healthy ways to relax and recharge
Don’t get so caught up in the hustle and bustle of life that you forget to take care of your own needs. Nurturing yourself is a necessity, not a luxury.
Learn the relaxation response
You can control your stress levels with relaxation techniques that evoke the body’s relaxation response, a state of restfulness that is the opposite of the stress response. Regularly practicing these techniques will build your physical and emotional resilience, heal your body, and boost your overall feelings of joy and equanimity.
Stress management strategy #6: Adopt a healthy lifestyle
You can increase your resistance to stress by strengthening your physical health.
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