Effects on Our Lives
Based on the Oxford Dictionary:
a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances: he's obviously under a lot of stress [in combination]:
[count noun] something that causes a state of strain or tension
Have you ever being under stress?
Or even better, is there anyone that has never been under stress?
Is there anyone that hasn't felt anxiety with their muscles getting tense; flaring up; those awful headaches; stomach getting upset again, although you had a light lunch; feeling tired and getting depressed; meanwhile you can't explain why?
Obviously we can go on and on with the endless methods of describing the many ways we experience stress and the techniques we use to manage it, which unfortunately are not all optimal.
To be fair though, with "stress", we need to understand the mechanism behind it, and dare to state the benefits of it. For that, I want you to close your eyes after you read this paragraph, and imagine yourself casually walking through the bushes of Africa in an early spring morning taking in the beauty of the motherland. All your senses are delightfully stimulated, and you find yourself, while strolling, catching the smell of wild sage and potato bush, looking at the amazing vegetation, hearing wonderful, and at times, unknown mysterious sounds that elevate your curiosity level and your need to distinguish them between wild game and the echoes of nature.
Wait, wait. I know what you are thinking. "Who on earth is going to stroll by him/herself in Africa's bush, when the "Big 5" are strolling along with that person. Right? Hopefully, no one, but for stress's sake, let's run the above scenario and add to the scene a hungry LION...
Obviously, this kind of encounter can be described as "a nightmare" by many, if not, by all, and although the possibilities for this to happen are minute, we can still get that "stomach-cramped" feeling by just thinking about it. Fascinating!
So let me ask the question: What would you do if you felt the lion's warmth on the back of your neck?
Except from getting petrified, consciously, we don't have enough time to analyze and list the pros and cons of the situation. However, based on evolution, our amazing unconscious knows exactly what to do: the activation of the "fight-or- flight response."
The "fight-or-flight response" is a primitive response regulated by the sympathetic nervous system, which releases extreme amounts of hormones so people can "fight" or "flee" a situation that has being perceived as harmful or a threat to their survival.
These hormones: cortisol, glucagon and catecholamines increase the ability in people to overcome themselves and take action that they couldn't perform under ordinary circumstances.
During the "fight-or-flight" response, the brain calculates the needs of the body, and in order to save energy, it shoots down the digestive and reproductive systems. Most energy is diverted to the core of our bodies. Meanwhile, blood pressure, metabolism, heart rate and breathing increases; pupils dilate to improve vision, and sweat is produced for cooling down the body. The liver, for increased energy availability, is releasing glucose, and blood moves away from the skin to reduce blood loss in the event of damage.
Whether we are being chased abroad by a lion in Africa or locally by a stranger in a dark alley, which puts our survival at risk, activating the "flight-or-fight" response, is a normal and necessary automated reaction.
What happens though if we keep putting ourselves in a continuous "fight-or-flight" response, even when the stressors are of a lesser magnitude compared to life- threatening ones?
Uncertainty is pervasive in all of us. Society is demanding more and more from each member and gives less and less in return.
Today's stress is related most of the time by the anticipation of an event, and not on a real-time one. Everyday events like: an upcoming exam, the possible loss of employment attached by financial losses; lack of communication / understanding at home, and the demand by the environment to be better and better have pushed many of us into a chronic "fight-or-flight" response. This relentless exposure to stress and the related hormonal release causes all sorts of problems such us: muscle tension and pain, anxiety, depression, insomnia, overeating, digestive problems, alcohol and drug abuse, and many more. Along with the physical and mental deterioration, a social withdrawal for many people has been observed due to the bombardment of personal losses.
Adaptation as a Response to Stress:
Selye (1956) observed the body's reaction to stress. He found that the "fight-or-flight" response was only the first in a series of reactions, which he called the General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS). GAS consists of three stages: Alarm Reaction, Resistance Stage and Exhaustion State.
The Alarm Reaction is the "fight-or-flight" response that you are already aware of.
The other two are equally important to explore.
The Resistance Stage is the stage where the body will do anything possible to adapt to the stressor. Although the amount of hormones released are decreased, they are still present in the body at higher levels than what they would have been under no stress. Under these circumstances, the body starts showing some signs of stress and decreases its ability to respond adequately to new stressors. As a result, a number of health problems are starting to be present due to the suppression of the immune system.
At the Exhaustion State, repeated or long-term stress has continued for some time. At this overload stage, the immune system becomes very weak, and the first signs of a heart condition, diabetes, low back pain, etc. transform to real conditions that need immediate attention. This is the most dangerous stage, and if the stress continues, the body becomes susceptible to all kinds of disease and death.
What is the Impact on Our Musculoskeletal System?
What is the relationship between occasional low back pain, stress and Seley's Adaptation Model? Very strong! In order to have a clear understanding of that relationship, let us consider the impact of decision-making under stressful conditions. Usually most of our decisions, when under stress, are the wrong ones leading to poor outcomes and regrets.
Phrases like "I shouldn't have done that", or even worse, "What's wrong with me", and overall blaming ourselves or others for our misfortunes, are very common. When we are preoccupied with a variety of "everyday" problems, it makes us forget about our physical body and the consequences of stress on it. Can you imagine your day starting and finishing with a barrage of stressful events?
For instance, when you think about your family problems early in the morning, you are not going to think of the best way to bend over and pick up your backpack. Before you get in your car, you have a fight with your neighbor, and you wouldn't think your upper back muscles are getting tight. After this interesting start, we factor in several traffic conditions. A person being tasked with a project with an unrealistic deadline, will end up at night feeling like a wreck, looking for methods to express his/her (choose one) anxiety, disappointment, frustration, exhaustion and/or pain (muscle aches, soreness and headaches). In addition, anxiety will increase pain in the existing fibromyalgia, migraines, arthritis, and neck or back.
Stress, whether physical, mental or emotional, influences the muscles and joints of your body. Muscle tightness due to stress, will impact the joints and posture as a whole. The body will initially go through the Alarm Reaction (fight-or-flight) based on Seley; then the Resistance Stage; and hopefully, not the Exhaustion Stage. It is important to understand that the Resistance Stage is the stage that we can deal with stress and decrease the impact on our body. But how?
Is There Hope?
It all depends on the individual and his/her perception. One has to ask what are his/her beliefs about life? What are filters that are being used to understand reality and how does one communicate it with others?
If communication is the response that we get from others, why don't we stop staring at our self-made wallpaper, and look for the messages that people try to give us?
We have more chances to get answers to our questions by looking outward than inward. A common mistake that most of us do is the relentless fixation on redicaments that deprive us from everything else that happens in our environment that might be the solution to whatever bothers us. This idea doesn't take away from the importance of any problem and from the attention that we need to invest in - in order to overcome it, but augmenting and protecting it, is a totally different yet familiar story.
We all understand that life is not easy and sometimes unfair. Yet, not everyone is unhappy and stressed out. So where do we attribute this basic, yet paramount differences among us?
This is a question for you and me to answer, but before that, we need to figure out our "story" and the way to change it if we don't like it.
Links on How to Eliminate Stress:
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