Stress seems to be a part of normal everyday life in today's society. It seems to be almost everywhere we turn, school, work, the road, dealing with fiances - and even the good things, such as receiving a promotion, buying a house, having a baby, getting married, graduation - these things all seem to pump up the pressure and we get, well, we get STRESSED OUT!
But what you may not know, is that you do not have to go through life feeling like you are always on the edge, about to explode from the stress you are under. It is important to understand is that all stress is not bad stress. A small amount of stress is what keeps us motivated and moving forward. But when you are constantly experiencing greater and greater amounts of pressure, and cannot escape it, it becomes a negative reaction to the stress.
But what is stress? Stress is a normal physical reaction to a perceived threat. The problem is, many things causing stress are not truly threatening. Not physically, at least. Remember my blog about Road Rage, entitled "Does counting to 10 really work?" In that blog, I outline the body's reaction to stress, in that case, conflict during rush hour. (http://michelleherrigelpsyd.blogspot.com/2010/04/rage-on-road-does-counting-to-10-really.html). When you are under pressure, there is what is known as a "fight or flight" response. When facing a deadline or financial trouble, you may experience the same physical sensations as if you were faced with a saber-toothed tiger. Bessel A. van der Kolk (2006) explains the effect of stress from a biological perspective. He explains that brain structures, called the amygdalae, dictate our emotions, and they raise the alarm to the brain. This happens automatically, but what you experience as a result, is that old familiar feeling of anxiety (muscle tension, shallow breathing, increased heart rate, pounding heart, shaking, dizziness, perspiration).
While day to day stressors are not nearly as serious as a real, serious threat to your life, the hormones involved (Cortisol, for example), trigger the same reaction. For those with post-traumatic stress disorder, flashbacks can be a difficult symptom. When something reminds these individuals of the traumatic event they experienced, their body will respond the same way it did when the initial event occurred. This is why, after a person is bitten by a dog in childhood, they can become fearful anytime they encounter a dog.
So, while stress is the body's way of protecting you, and some stress can be good, excess amounts of stress can cause a multitude of problems, both emotional and physical. Long-term, repeated stress affects virtually every system in the body. Some common effects of stress can include:
* Chronic Pain
* Heart Disease
* Gastrointestinal problems
*Infertility and Sexual Dysfunction
*Immune System problems
*Using drugs or alcohol to deal with stress
It is important to note that people respond to different stressors differently. Some are able to roll with the punches, while others fall apart at the first sign of stress. Things that can affect your ability to handle stress are: family and social support systems and relationships, outlook on life, sense of control, and your knowledge and ability to control your emotions. Part 2 of this series, coming July 28, will outline some tips and strategies that have been shown to effectively manage stress.
This is Part 1 of a two part series entitled "Stressed Out" Part 2 will cover "Tips and Strategies for Handling Stress.
van der Kolk, B.A. (2004) Psychobiology of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. Textbook of Biological Psychiatry. Wiley-Liss, Inc. Hoboken, New Jersey.
Like this blog? Check out some of my others...
- ► 2012 (7)
- ► 2011 (12)
- ▼ July (3)