Stress. We all experience it on various levels at various times. If you asked a group of people “what is stress?”, you are likely to get dozens of answers. Stress is essentially our body’s reaction to a stressor, real or perceived. Good stress, or eustress, is a positively perceived stressor, and distress any stress perceived to be negative. Both kinds of stress put our bodies into an excited state so we can meet the challenges they present to us.
Many times how stress impacts us is a matter of perception. In the workplace for example, people are under the stress of expectations for performance and competition from coworkers. If individuals see the competition as motivating and perform on a higher level, the stress has positively affected them. However, if the stress in turn triggers extreme worry and anxiety causing a decrease in performance, less desirable results ensue(a powerful example of how perception influences reality mentally, emotionally, and physiologically).
Scientist Hans Seyle (known as the father of stress research) in 1936 introduced his General Adaptation Theory stating the body responds to any external source of stress with a predictable biological pattern in an attempt to restore the body’s internal homeostasis characterized by three distinct stages. During the initial stage or alarm phase, our first reaction is recognizing stress and preparing to deal with it, known as fight or flight response. Hormones cortisol, adrenaline, and nonadrenaline are released providing us with instant energy and a deadening effect to pain. During the following stage, resistance, the stress is resolved, and the body begins to restore balance through repair, recovery, and renewal. Stage three, Exhaustion, occurs if this process is repeated chronically over time, and is very hazardous to your health.
Chronic stressful states have been linked to compromised immune system function, high blood pressure, blood clots, atherosclerosis, coronary artery disease, heart attack, heart failure, muscle tension and pain, intensification of arthritic effects, gastroesophageal reflux disease(GERD), stomach ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis, sexual dysfunction, pregnancy complications, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease(COPD), acne, psoriasis, frustration, inability to focus, depression, headaches and migraines, insulin resistance, thyroid dysfunction, increased blood sugar, impaired collagen formation and interruption in bone formation. Wow, that’s quite a list!
The good news? There are many stress management techniques to help us minimize its harmful effects. As you probably guessed, exercise tops the list. When we exercise, we metabolize stress hormones, helping our bodies to return to a calm relaxed state. Exercising to the point of sweating for around ten minutes has very potent effects.
Remember-awareness is the first step. Listen to your body and mind. Notice when you are feeling higher levels of stress. Does it continue into the next day, week, or month? Hans’ ominous words remind us it is a necessity for health to keep our stress levels in check.
“Every stress leaves an indelible scar, and the organism pays for its survival after a stressful situation by becoming a little older.” ~ Hans Selye
-Beth Harris, CSCS
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