Stress
Your Health and Your Body

Stress

It is known for a fact that stress affects all people at some point in their lives. Even young children are not spared from experiencing stress. Stress comes in different sizes and levels and affects several aspects of your life. Various types of stress such as emotional, mental or physical are part of our daily existence and coping with it in the right way will help you gain control of your life and maintain good health.

Dealing with stress on a daily basis is now part of our lives. Stress can be caused by mundane things such as searching for a lost key or being stuck in the traffic. It can also be a deeper level of stress such as losing a job or facing a dangerous situation. Stress has various implications not only on an emotional or mental level but on our overall health. Over 43% of all adult individuals are suffering from some form of stress and more astonishing is that 75 to 90% of consultations with physicians are attributed to stress which is the cause for various ailments and conditions. It is projected that more than 300 billion sufferers worldwide are losing productivity each year due to some form of stress.

Background on the term "Stress"

As for the record the term "stress" is not generally accepted in science due to the fact that it is a very subjective term and does not have a definite definition. The history of the term "stress" was attributed to Hans Selye when in 1936 he defined it as "the non-specific response of the body to any demand for change". He actually conducted many laboratory experiments that subjected lab animals to different stimuli that would affect them both emotionally and physically. Through his studies he successfully concluded that stress can affect one's overall health condition. In his experiments the animals developed various types of illnesses that were very similar to what humans may experience. These illness included heart disease, arthritis, kidney disease, and even stroke when the animals were plagued with lingering stress. Selye's research studies were opposing to what was considered to be the usual causes of diseases during his time.

The term "Stress" as Medically Defined

According to the Medical Dictionary from www.thefreedictionary.com "stress" is defined as an organism's total response to environmental demands or pressures. The initial studies on stress were during the 50's and this term describes both the actual causes and effects experienced during a period of pressure. In recent studies on stress the word "stressor" means a stimulus that incites or activates a stress response in an individual. Generally, stress is attributed as the external response that is measured by changes in skin reactions, glandular secretions and other forms of physical manifestations.

Our Bodies During "Stress"

Stress is a natural reaction to stimulus that triggers certain changes in the body when we are subjected to it. Each organ in the body reacts differently with stress because each area has its own natural response when coping with stressful situations. Below describes what happens to various body systems when one faces threatening adversities or is on the verge of being harmed. What is so interesting, is no matter whether the threat is perceived or the threat is actually causing harm, the response from our body is the same. So whether you are running from a lion, are nervous and upset while driving in traffic, or watching a horror movie, many of these stress responses occur. Our bodies and minds can not tell the difference on what the cause of the stress is, perceived or actual, putting our reactions to stress in motion.

  • Brain: The brain releases hormones which activates the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal system. Naturally the brain releases certain stress hormones such as cortisol. Cortisol is responsible in regulating many bodily systems including the lungs, circulatory, heart, immune, skin and metabolism to quickly enable the body to deal with stress. Neurotransmitters called "Catecholamines" are also released including adrenaline to trigger an emotional response. Effects on short and long term memory are evident during stress which includes the body's ability to concentrate and think rationally. In several recent studies it was concluded that the brain can misinterpret a chemical signal. This causes the brain to switch on instead of off when something is wrongly perceived. This is referred to as the overdrive position and is described as when the brain fails to address and correct the stress response.
  • Heart, Circulation and Lungs: In stressful events the major organs in the body such as the heart, circulatory system and lungs are also affected. In a highly stressful situation when fear sets in our heart rate as well as blood pressure rapidly increases. Breathing also becomes faster while the lungs are taking in more oxygen. Red and white blood cells are rapidly discharged from the spleen so they can transport more oxygenated blood throughout the body. Blood circulation will significantly increase by 300 to 400 percent, preparing the brain, lungs and muscles for the added pressures and demands brought about by stress.
  • Immune System: When confronted with a flight or fight scenario the immune system works similarly with military tactic deploying more soldiers to critical locations. Certain areas of the immune system have decreased steroid hormone production to pave way for the immune system to strategically position and prepare infection fighting molecules which includes white blood cells. These immune defenses are being sent all over the body especially to the skin area and lymph nodes where infection or injury will likely transpire. This is one way your body copes with stressful and dangerous situations by providing additional defenses.
  • The Mouth and Throat: When a person is in a dangerous situation or in harm's way of a life threatening event the mouth and throat area will become dry since fluids are diverted to other areas of the body. This may cause difficulty of speech especially if the throat muscles are in spasm.
  • The Skin: Blood also circulates and flows away from the skin giving more importance to the vital organs in the body such as the heart and other important muscle tissues. Apart from giving extra support to the vital organs, another defense mechanism of the body is to divert blood from the areas that might be prone to injuries and wound inflictions that could lead to severe blood loss during a possible confrontation. Physical manifestations of this occurring is sweaty, clammy and colder skin.
  • Metabolic Reactions: During a stressful event the metabolism slows down, which reduces the activities of the digestive system. This also helps in conserving energy.
  • The Relaxation Response: This is the final reaction phase of the body in an acute stressful situation. Once the imminent danger or harm has passed and the body is found to be not harmed, the level of stress hormones returns back to normal. This is the "relaxation response" allowing the body to revert back to normal while going through and regulating the different systems in the body.

If you are under constant stress it is best to try and figure out what is causing it. I know this is easier said than done. Most experts recommend keeping a journal to record when you feel your stress increases. This allows you to record conversations, weather, activities or other things that occurred that may have contributed to your stress. I kept a journal in the beginning when I began to learn how to manage my chronic pain and found it helpful to identify some of my triggers. Many people find that exercising, meditation, yoga, pilates helps them with their stress. If you feel you need more help you may want to look into Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, it helps individuals to identify triggers and their response to them. There are also many supplements that support the body during times of stress such as the Nervous System Pack and NutriCalm. Stress isn't something to take likely, as you can see from the list above, it does affect your health!

Mara Gerke, CA, CNHP - All Rights Reserved.

Sources: The American Institute of Stress, What is Stress, http://www.stress.org/what-is-stress/
The Free Dictionary - Definition of Stress, http://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/stress
American Psychological Association, How Stress Affects Your Health, http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/stress.aspx
Stress | University of Maryland Medical Center, http://umm.edu/health/medical/reports/articles/stress#ixzz2gF0Bkn00