– Stress is when a physiological response is elicited from an external stimuli.
→ This means when a stressful situation (the external stimuli) is presented to you, it causes a (physiological) response from within your mind and body, which can be both psychological and physiological. The stress can also be short term or long term.
When most of us tend to think of stress we like to see it as a feeling similar to worry. Contrary to this belief, stress is not just a feeling and can cause harm if we allow our bodies to remain in the state of stress for too long. If a person is under constant stress, it can actually affect and change a person’s whole biological and psychological state.
The Two Types Of Stress:
As most of us already know, stress is not always bad. There are actually two different types of stress that each of us experience, one is caused by positive events and the other is caused by negative events..
EUSTRESS- stress that is caused by a positive event. For example, the stress that occurs while watching a scary movie, riding a roller coaster, or getting a job promotion.
DISTRESS- stress that is caused by a negative event. For example, the stress that occurs from the loss of a loved one, getting hurt, or losing a job.
Hans Selye’s General Adaptation Syndrome:
The effect that stress can have on the body was first described by Hungarian scientist Hans Seyle in 1936. Seyle theorized that chronic stress creates long-term chemical changes in the body, therefore stress could be a prominent cause of more serious diseases.
With this knowledge in mind Seyle began to dig even further into his research. From his lab work with rats and his memories of medical school, Hans Seyle identified what he referred to as The General Adaptation Syndrome. This describes the body’s reactions to stress and can be broken down into three stages:
1) Alarm Reaction- This is when a person is disturbed by a stressor or external stimulus and the body first notices this stimulus. It is in this first stage that Cannon’s fight or flight response comes into effect and hormones are released to provide the individual with enough energy to handle the given situation at hand. These hormones include adrenaline, norepinephrine, and cortisol. When released, there will be an increase in heart rate, breathing pattern, a tightening of muscles, and a constricting of blood vessels. All of this results in the creation of the energy you need to either fight or flee..
If the energy that is released from the fight or flight response continually remains unused through a lack of physical activity, it can actually have harmful effects on the body. Too much of the hormone cortisol can damage muscle tissue, cells, and can even lead to gastric ulcers, high blood sugar levels, and stroke. If there is too much adreniline in the body, blood vessels of the brain and heart can be damaged, and this will increase the risk of suffering from a stroke or heart attack.
2) Adaptation- This is when the body begins to counteract the external stimulus and restore our bodies through recovery, renewal, and repair. This process is known as resistance, and it occurs almost immediately after the beginning of the alarm phase. This will continue until the stressful condition desists. Should a stressful condition continue, the body will remain in its state of arousal.
A person will begin to face problems when this process begins repeating too frequently, leaving little to no time for recovery to set in. If this occurs, the individual will move into the next stage..
3) Exhaustion- This is when the body has been depleted of the energy, both physical and psychological, that is required to fight off the stressor. This is particularly true for chronic stressors, because when fighting short-term stress, a person may not be entirely depleted of his or her energy. With the energy lost, the individual can no longer resist the stressor.
As a result, stress levels go up and remain high. The individual may experience adrenal fatigue, burnout, maladaption, overload, or dysfunction. Chronic stress can have a major impact on the body and mind. Nerve cells of organs and tissues can become damaged, memory and thinking can become impaired, and a person will be more likely to have anxiety and depression. High levels of stress can also contribute to rheumatoid arthritis, high blood pressure, and heart disease.
How to make Stress your Friend:
The only way to make stress become your friend is to change the way that you think and view it. In any given situation you can change the way your mind and body react to the stress.
I came across this idea while watching an episode of a show called Ted Talks, Where a brilliant women named Kelly McGonigal explains her study on this stress theory. In this study about 30,000 people are tracked throughout 8 years. These people are asked 2 questions:How much stress have you had in the past year? Do you believe that stress can be harmful to your health?
People who had experienced a high amount of stress in the previous year had a 43% increase in risk of dying, but this was only true for the people who ALSO believed that stress was harmful.
On the other hand were people who did NOT believe that stress was harmful to their health. These people actually had the lowest percent risk of dying out of anyone, even the people who had experienced low amounts of stress.
What Does All This Mean?
This means that we can actually change the effects that stress has on us simply by changing our thought process about the subject. The way to do this is to begin viewing the stress responses as helpful to your situation.
Normally when we feel stressed out our body responds by releasing the hormones adrenaline, norepinephrine, and cortisol into your body. This results in an increase in heart rate, breathing patterns, constricting of blood vessels, and you can even begin to sweat. The trick is to view that pounding heart as your body preparing you for action. If you’re breathing harder and faster, no problem, that’s just your body supplying you with more oxygen. All of these responses are your body energizing you and preparing you.
Once you learn to change your mind and view these stress responses as helpful, you’ll then be able to change the way your body reacts to it as well. In another study done, participants were taught how to view the stress responses as helpful, exactly how I mentioned in the paragraph above. When they put the participants into a stressful situation something amazing occurred..Not only did these people think differently about the situation but they’re physical responses to the stress changed.
Normally, stress causes your heart rate to increase and your blood vessels to constrict. What the participants experienced was that their blood vessels stayed relaxed instead of constricting. More like a feeling of extreme joy or courage.
The participants from this study were actually able to make stress less likely to cause health issues simply by changing the way they think and react in the situation,
and you can do this too..
The only way to beat stress,
is to make it your friend.
All of these responses from the stress are your body preparing you with the energy you need to handle the situation at hand. There is no reason to fear stress, you are completely in control of the way your mind and body react to it.
If you’d like to learn more in depth about what I’ve explained in this post you can check out the two resources I used to learn this myself. They will be listed below..
Thanks for reading and good luck in your current endeavors!