It seems like our modern times are a breeding ground for that all too common malady we are universally familiar with—stress. We live in an era where the American Dream is all too often a rat race to keep up with all the economic and cultural changes that bombard us on a regular basis. With all the affluence and modern conveniences most of us have in this country, it appears that our stress levels are climbing steadily. But not all stress is bad, as we shall see. It is only when stress becomes out of balance that it turns from a positive force to a destructive factor in our lives.
What is Stress?
Stress is a natural reaction of the body to an increased need for physical or mental performance. For all the bad press stress gets, it is actually a necessary and beneficial feature that is designed to help us deal with challenges and tough situations that come up in life. These challenges can range from heavy mental demands that are placed on us at work or school, or physical situations such as responding to an unexpected traffic situation or defending yourself or a loved one from harm. Normal levels of stress that appear when we need them and dissipate when the immediate challenge is gone, help us to survive and be more productive in our every day lives. But too much stress, or lingering long-term stress that is always with us can be very unhealthy and lead to physical, mental, and emotional damage that can make us sick instead of keeping us safe and well.
How Does Stress Work?
Triggers that bring on stress are referred to as “stressors.” These stressors can be literal physical dangers or mental pressures that cause us to be restless and anxious. There are almost endless possibilities when it comes to stressors, and to make it even more complicated, we all react differently to situations that can potentially cause stress. For example, an experienced mother may be able to calmly and efficiently mange a house full of crying babies and toddlers pulling at her skirt with no apparent signs of stress (although a certain amount of stress will help her handle this situation even better). To someone else, this may be an extremely stressful experience. Another person may thrive in a busy, chaotic office with deadlines screaming for their attention, but they would be a basket case in the busy mother’s environment.
Whatever the stressor may be, the body responds in a physical and chemical manner to the increased demands. Here is a synopsis of what happens when the stress response, also known as the fight or flight response, kicks into gear:
- In reaction to a stressor, the hypothalamus, a section of the brain that controls the autonomic nervous system, sends signals to the adrenal glands to produce and release increased amounts of hormones called adrenaline and cortisol. Once these enter the bloodstream, they produce various effects on the body including increased heart rate, respiration, metabolism, and blood pressure. The blood vessels become dilated allowing more blood flow to the major muscle groups and the brain. The pupils also dilate making our vision keener. The liver gets in on the act by giving up some of the glucose stored within it in order to provide an immediate boost of energy to the body. All of these responses work together to help us handle increased amounts of work or deal with an emergency situation quickly and efficiently. I think we have all heard stories about people doing super-human feats such as lifting a heavy object like a tree or a car off of someone and thereby saving their lives. Acts such as this would be impossible without the stress response.
If Stress is Such a Good Thing, Why Are We Always Told to Reduce and Manage It?
Stress is a funny thing, because when it is working well it helps make us better able to handle our responsibilities and solve problems or confront issues as we travel through life. Human beings would be in trouble without useful and properly operating stress responses. But stress can, and often does, become a problem when it occurs at levels that are too high for too long, or when the chemical reactions associated with the stress response are ongoing instead of on call when we need them. Stress creates pressure, and a controlled appropriate amount of it is a needful and useful tool. When the stress response is operating normally, it will activate when we need it in order to handle a task or situation. It will then return the nervous system to its normal state once the danger or challenge has passed. However, when people are consistently exposed to abnormally high stress levels over long periods of time, it takes a cumulative toll on their health, and the effects of the stress response, such as elevated blood pressure or increased metabolism, may become a chronic problem that is a curse rather than a blessing. Ongoing stress can also cause mental and emotional problems that, like a vicious cycle, only lead to more stress and related problems. The term for dangerous amounts of stress is technically “stress overload.”
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Stress Overload?
As we have said, stress affects everyone differently, but there are some general signs that often accompany stress overload. Some of the most common ones include:
- Panic attacks
- Angry outbursts
- Feeling constantly rushed and pressed for time
- Mood swings
- Stomach aches
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Insomnia and other sleeping disorders
- Excessive worrying
- Lack of concentration and focus
- Self-absorbed behavior
If excessive stress is not dealt with and becomes chronic, further physical and mental problems may occur including:
- Weight loss or gain
- Elevated heart rate
- Chest pain or pressure
- Drug or alcohol abuse
- Suicidal thoughts
- Thoughts about hurting others
People with chronic illnesses or compromised immune systems can also see an increase in the intensity and/or frequency of their symptoms when under undue amounts of stress. Examples might include HIV/AIDS, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, or lupus. This can also be true for allergic conditions such as asthma or eczema.
What Are Some of the Most Common Stressors That Trigger Stress Overload?
Rating the “most” stressful situations in life is far from an exact science. We are all different, and all react differently to the experiences life sometimes throws at us. However, there are certain factors that are generally stressful to all people, to one degree or another. One survey placed the top overall stressors as (from highest to lowest):
- Death of a spouse
- Marital separation
- Incarceration in jail or prison
- Death of a close family member
While this may be true for many people, a more general list of common stressors includes:
- Difficult personal relationships: This may include marriage, parents with children, children with parents, friends, in laws, neighbors, etc.
- Conflict at work: Having to go to a place of work daily where you have problems with the boss or other employees on a regular basis can be a huge stressor for some folks.
- Financial difficulties: Not being able to pay your bills or provide sufficiently for your family is a big one too. This can lead to marital difficulties as well as worrying about being harassed by collection agencies or losing your home or possessions.
- Your health or that of a loved one: This is especially troublesome because if your health is failing, stress overload will only make your medical problems worse and lead to even more stress.
- School stress: This can be a big one for children. Kids who do not do well academically can face a lot of pressure from their peers and from their parents. Sometimes the competition is fierce at the higher education level for acceptable standards to get into certain schools or careers.
What Can Be Done to Minimize or Avoid Harmful Stress Levels?
Now that we have a fairly comprehensive understanding of what we are dealing with when it comes to excessive stress, lets talk a bit about how we can combat this enemy of our health and well being.
- Rest and Relaxation: If there is one skill we have lost more than any other in the shuffle of modern life it is the habit of becoming quiet and restful in the midst of our busy schedules. We live in a 24/7 world that is constantly filled with things to do and noise and stimulation, whether it is working at 3 in the morning on the internet, or having constant noise from radios or TV’s. Learning to shut out the busyness of the outside world and have some physical rest and relaxation, as well as mental, can go a long ways towards helping us to manage stress. It is getting increasingly hard to find a quiet time in our daily lives where we can enjoy the “sounds of silence” and spend some time meditating and getting our spirits restored. Perhaps we should be more proactive about doing whatever it takes to make this happen.
- Deep breathing: Even simple deep-breathing exercises can be a tremendous help when we are feeling stressed out. Inhaling deeply and slowly helps to bring more life-giving oxygen into our bodies, and can help fight against the hyped up reactions we often experience while under stress.
- Regular exercise: There is no better stress reliever that I know of than a good workout. It works wonders for us both physically and mentally. Just as stress releases hormones, exercise releases substances that help us to mentally and physically calm down and feel a sense of well-being. It also strengthens our immune system to help us combat stress better.
- Keep short accounts: One of the best ways to avoid stress is to deal with situations, large and small, as best you can without putting them off or avoiding them. The more you do this, the more it will become a habit. It keeps small issues from blossoming into seemingly impossible situations with no apparent answer.
- Bio-Feedback – Nano SRT – The Nano SRT System is based upon Bio-Electric (Frequency) Medicine principles that state that ALL substances, living or otherwise, possess a unique, measurable energetic frequency. The Nano SRT’s FDA-Cleared BioFeedback System emits frequencies that are representative of these substances and records the body’s stress responses toward these frequencies. There are over 160,000 frequencies (stressors) stored in the Nano SRT proprietary database. As baseline parameters have been scientifically established for the response toward each frequency, any reading that falls outside of these parameters indicates that the representative substance may be creating undue stress and possibly contributing toward health issues and symptoms that are currently being experienced.
One final tip, if I may. Applying stress management techniques on a regular basis, especially when you are not unduly stressed out, will make it much easier to respond in constructive ways when the really big stressors that we all have to deal with at some point surface. Building habits that encourage stress relief will enable you to act reflexively without having to think too much about it. Preparing beforehand like this is an excellent stress management tool of its own.