Jacksonville Beach Wellness Doctor Answers the Question: What Is Stress?
What is stress? This is a question that more and more people are asking in these modern times. We know that our lives are becoming increasingly stressful and we are constantly hearing about people who are sick or disabled by the effects of stress. But what is stress exactly, and why does it seem to cause so many more problems now than in the past?
One of the reasons that we hear a lot more about stress these days is that it is a modern term. The use of the word stress in psychology and biology only dates back to the 1930s. Before that, it was only applied to physics and engineering. So that is why we do not see the word appearing in literature from one hundred years ago or more.
Stress is defined as an inappropriate response in the body to any kind of demand. So technically, stress is not the situation, but our response to it. The situation or demand causing the stress is called the stressor.
The first effects of stress on the body are similar to those felt in times of danger. The heart rate will tend to increase, adrenalin begins to surge through our system and the body prepares for a ‘fight or flight’ response to the danger.
However, in our modern lives, it is not usually possible to respond in these ways. If your boss dumps yet another 100 page report on your desk asking for a summary before lunchtime, you may be tempted to either hit him or run from the office (the two responses that your body is preparing you for) but you probably will not do either one.
The result is that the adrenalin has nothing to do, and instead of being used for its designed purpose it continues to circulate around the body for much longer than it should. That is why stress is called an inappropriate response: we don’t need all of that adrenalin to handle our boss. Eventually your adrenal glands are unable to keep up and chronic fatigue follows.
As well as obviously stressful situations like that, there are many other stressors in our lives that we don’t even notice. Noise is one example. Conflict is another. These are things that we may be used to or even enjoy, but in primitive terms they associated with an increased demand for adrenalin. It’s like being in fight or flight mode day after day, week after week, month after month, sometimes for years. Over time you simply burn out.
The physical result of living like this is that we may have high levels of adrenalin circulating in the body all of the time. This can lead to many of the physical effects of stress, from headaches, chronic fatigue, chest pains, and digestive disorders to serious illnesses.
What is stress on a psychological level? It means that we live most of our lives feeling slightly worried with moments of severe anxiety. It is common to suffer from insomnia, depression, irritability, mood swings, and more.
We may withdraw from friends and family, neglect our responsibilities, procrastinate, and become more dependent on substances like alcohol, cigarettes or drugs (prescribed or recreational). Eating habits are also likely to change: some people eat more, others eat less, but most people will either lose or gain weight when under stress.
Clearly, many of the effects caused by stress itself, can cause stress. Withdrawing from friends makes us feel more isolated and depressed. Neglecting our work leads to anxiety about job security. So we can easily find ourselves in a vicious circle. To break out of the circle it is not enough to know what is stress: we also need to know how to deal with it.
Having done extensive review of research on the profound effects of stress in the body, I feel that there is solid evidence that stress does have a significant role in chronic disease. When consulting with patients I always include stress reduction as part of their overall program to restore health.
In fact I feel it’s so important to your health I’d like to continue discussing the physiologic effects of stress and what you can do about it in my next article.
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As a natural health care provider in Jacksonville Beach, FL, I see my job as educating, coaching, and nurturing my patients to better health and wellness.
Yours In Health,