Photo courtesy stock.xchng – “The Stress!!!!”
It’s a funny thing stress. Without it we couldn’t survive – our hearts wouldn’t beat and basically we’d die. And there’s some kinds of positive stress too, like the high you get after exercising or the buzz associated with watching team sports. A certain level of stress can actually improve our performance too and give us the kick we need to perform well during an exam or when competing in an event of our own.
What exactly is stress?
The stress process is the result of a complicated series of subconscious chemical responses that occur within our systems. To simplify, when we are under threat (whether this is actual or perceived, conscious or subconscious, it doesn’t matter) our body released adrenalin into our systems. This surge of adrenalin is required to activate our fight or flight responses which we still have imprinted in our genetic systems from the time when we lived in caves and ate (and were eaten by!) sabre toothed tigers.
When in fight or flight a number of things may happen which may include losing the ability to think clearly and rationally. Blood is taken from the extremities and concentrates on pumping blood to our vital organs. Our heart and respiration rates may quicken and we may feel a sudden rush of energy. We may find ourselves sweating profusely, feeling very flushed and our mouth getting dry. Our hearing and sense of smell and sight may suddenly become extremely sharp. We often hear of amazing things happening when people are in this fight or flight response state, such as 80 year old gramdmas who can barely walk scaling and clearing 6 foot fences when they have been chased by an intruder.
Again, this fight or flight response has its advantages and is an instinctive way our bodies respond in the face of danger. But what can happen to our systems is they can react in these ways when such drastic responses aren’t required. Sometimes this fight or flight response will be tripped and we may experience the effects of an adrenalin surge for no apparent reason. A thudding chest, increased respiration, sweaty palms and confusion (to name a few of the symptoms) can present as a panic attack and can be extremely frightening to someone who doesn’t realise what is happening. Milder responses are difinitive of anxiety and in more serious cases can lead to avoidance behaviours including compulsions as typically found in people diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorders (OCD). Another outcomes of too much real or perceived stress can include our systems not being able to produce enough adrenalin to pump through our systems to manage the actual or perceived stresses our bodies react to. In these cases a diagnosis of adrenal fatigue or chronic fatigue syndrome may be given. I know of principals and teachers who have received such diagnoses.
Cortisol is the hormone that is released after the surge of adrenalin leaves the adrenals and basically counters its effects, reducing it to a normal level in our bodies. It takes about 45 minutes for this evening out to occur which is why we may feel shaky for several minutes after an interaction with an aggressive child or parent or after a near miss with another vehicle. You may have seen reports of cortisol being measured by taking saliva swabs and because this collection method is so non-invasive it can be easily measured in samples of all ages, including babies. What we know about cortisol is that measurements of it will be high in individuals who experience a lot of stress and this includes babies and children who are neglected and/or exposed to trauma.
What people often think about when they think about stress is in relation to the mental or emotional overwhelm associated with encountering situations which are challenging and difficult to handle. Although mental and psychic stress is a category of stress, did you know that there are actually 6 different categories of stress overall? They are:
1. Nutritional stress
2. Chemical stress
3. Physical stress
4. Mental and psychic stress
5. Electromagnetic stress
6. Thermal stress
Starting tomorrow and every day this week I will blog about one of these categories, give details of its features and provide information about how to best reduce this type and consequently your overall levels of stress. By reducing your overall stress levels I anticipate 2 benefits to occur, the first being a decline in overall stress levels (which we may not even be unaware we are experiencing) and the second being an increased ability to manage category 4, mental and psychic stress.
I’m interested to hear what you think of this series on stress – feel free to leave me replies below.