2. The Problem Of Stress
2.1 What Is Stress?
Hold a wooden pencil between your hands. Slowly apply pressure as you try to bend the pencil. Increase your pressure, and the pencil snaps and breaks. That’s an example of mechanical stress. Stress is simply a pressure or a strain that tends to distort a body—whether it be a pencil or a person.
Up to a point, we can all take pressure and strain. At some time, however, the stress can become so great that just like the pencil, we “snap.” If and when we “snap” depends on the ways we handle stressful situations.
And, to make it more interesting, all stress is not the same. To handle the stress in your life, you need to understand what type of stresses can be made upon you.
2.2 The Types of Stress
Most stress used to be physical and short-term. Now in modern times, stress is usually emotional and long-term. What does this mean?
All living creatures experience short-term, physical stress almost continuously. Finding food, adapting to weather changes, reproducing, and growth are examples of common, short-term stress situations. As soon as we find our food, or adapt to the season, or reproduce, then the physical stress brought on by these states is eliminated—it was temporary and for a short-term.
This type of stress is normal, natural, and perhaps even beneficial. Without a certain amount of stress, no change, progress, or growth would ever take place. We would be in continuous state of stagnation unless we experienced temporary feelings of stress.
When these stressful situations become long-term, however, then harm results. Also, when the stress becomes more emotional or mental and less physical, we have a harder time of dealing with it. Why? Because the responses to physical stress, such as intense hunger, are already learned. The body has its own way of handling physical stress, and it knows how to best compensate for the temporary demands placed on it.
On the other hand, emotional stress brought about by uncertainties, or feelings of helplessness are difficult to handle. We haven’t learned yet how to deal with the type of stress produced by overdue bills or individual shortcomings. And, unlike physical stress, these long-term, stressful emotional states and fears can last for weeks, months, or even years.
2.3 The Effects of Stress
You already know how stress affects you personally, perhaps it makes you feel tired, fatigued, nervous, or depressed. Stress may make you feel as if the weight of the world was on your shoulders. Emotionally, stress may make us prone to anger, irritability, or even tears. No matter how you personally react to stress, however, the physiological effects of stress are the same for all living creatures. What happens to your body when you experience stress?
What are the physiological responses by the body to physical stress:
- An increase in arterial pressure.
- An increased blood flow to the muscles with a decreased blood flow to the organs.
- An increased rate of cellular metabolism throughout the body.
- An increase in blood glucose.
- An increase in glycolysis in the muscles.
- Increased muscular strength.
- Increased mental activity.
The overall effect of these responses is to let you perform far more strenuous physical activity than would otherwise be possible. Why is this? Because if a stressful, threatening, situation is present, then you would probably need to flee from it or fight it. This is called the fight flight reaction because an animal in a physically stress-state decides almost instantly to stand and fight or to n and run.
Here’s an example of how extreme physical stress can activate the energy reserves of the body: In the national newspapers this week is an account of a 80-year-old grandmother who had been on crutches continuously for the last two years. A fire broke out in her neighbor’s house and she heard the cries of a trapped child. Immediately she ran into the house and carried the child to freedom before she realized she had thrown her crutches aside. She then collapsed and had to be removed by ambulance. During a time of great crisis, or stress, her body responded so vigorously that she forgot she was an invalid.
So far, stress doesn’t seem to have that destructive an effect, and it doesn’t—if it is short-term, physical stress. When stress becomes prolonged and internalized, however, it has decidedly negative results upon the person’s health.
2.4 What Is the Stress Reaction?
It is amazing that almost any type of stress can cause the same reaction in the body. Scientists often refer to two kinds of stress: physical and neurogenic.
An example of physical stress is being exposed to extreme cold. An example of neurogenic stress is the worry that you won’t be able to pay your winter heating bill. A vital body can quickly adapt to physical stress. Neurogenic stress, worry or tension, however, may take their toll.
Regardless if the stress is in the body or in the mind, the same physiological reaction takes place in the body. The most noticeable effect of any type of stress is a marked increase of hormone secretion in the body.
The hormone known as ACTH (or adrenocorticotropic hormone) is released in large quantities whenever stress is present. This ACTH substance activates the secretion of cortisol. Cortisol, in turn, enhances the production of adrenal androgens in the adrenal cortex. The net effect of all these secretions caused by stress is to provide a sharp and immediate stimulus to the adrenal glands.
The adrenal glands sit right above the kidneys, and control many functions. Perhaps you’ve heard of athletes or other people speak of the “adrenalin rush.” Adrenalin is the most powerful stimulant known. Stress causes adrenalin to be released, and we consequently feel “stimulated.” If we are constantly overstimulated by stress, we become burnt-out and incapable of responding to true stress situations.
When some people drive in heavy city traffic or experience other intensely stressful situations, their adrenal glands may actually “ache” or hurt from the constant stimulation being received. An older gentleman who complained of lower backaches while commuting in rush-hour traffic believed he had kidney problems. In reality, his adrenal glands were just being overworked by the stress of commuter traffic.
This is the danger in the stress reaction. You can be under stress or overstimulated almost continuously. No one can run on “high’ speed all the time, and the body eventually suffers.
The type of stress that can provoke this adrenal reaction is widely varied. Researchers have discovered, however, that the following situations are sufficiently “stressful” to spark a high ACTH release, which means the body becomes highly stimulated.
2.5 The Types of Stress That Cause Physiological Reactions
- Intense heat or cold.
- Injections of any sort.
- Surgical operations.
- Trauma of any type (physical or emotional).
- Any debilitating body crisis.
- Emotional outbursts or anxiety attacks.
It seems as if stress is all around us, and its sustained effects can wear us down and make us vulnerable to negative thoughts and poor living habits. But there is hope.
The Life Science program, which is based entirely upon our natural adaptations, provides the correct basis for living that allows us to withstand stress far better than if we transgress our own biological requirements and nature.
The Life Science approach to stress management, even long-term and emotional stress, is three-fold: Exercise, Diet, and Relaxation. These are three of the essentials of health and well-being. Let’s see how they help us overcome stress in our daily life.