We generally use the word “stress” when we feel that everything seems to have become too much – we are overloaded and wonder whether we really can cope with the pressures placed upon us.
Anything that poses a challenge or a threat to our well-being is a stress. Some stresses get you going and they are good for you – without any stress at all many say our lives would be boring and would probably feel pointless. However, when the stresses undermine both our mental and physical health they are bad. In this text we shall be focusing on stress that is bad for you.
Fight or Flight Response
Part of your response to a challenge is physiological and affects your physical state. When faced with a challenge or a threat, your body activates resources to protect you – to either get away as fast as you can, or fight.
If you are upstairs at home and an earthquake starts, the faster you can get yourself and your family out the more likely you are all to survive. If you need to save somebody’s life during that earthquake, by lifting a heavy weight that has fallen on them, you will need components in your body to be activated to give you that extra strength – that extra push.
Our fight-or-flight response is our body’s sympathetic nervous system reacting to a stressful event. Our body produces larger quantities of the chemicals cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline, which trigger a higher heart rate, heightened muscle preparedness, sweating, and alertness – all these factors help us protect ourselves in a dangerous or challenging situation.
Non-essential body functions slow down, such as our digestive and immune systems when we are in fight-or flight response mode. All resources can then be concentrated on rapid breathing, blood flow, alertness and muscle use.
When we are stressed the following happens:
- § Blood pressure rises
- § Breathing becomes more rapid
- § Digestive system slows down
- § Heart rate (pulse) rises
- § Immune system goes down
- § Muscles become tense
- § We do not sleep (heightened state of alertness)
Most of us have varying interpretations of what stress is about. What really matters are our thoughts about the situations in which we find ourselves.
We are continually sizing up situations that confront us in life. We assess each situation, deciding whether something is a threat, how we can deal with it and what resources we can use. If we conclude that the required resources needed to effectively deal with a situation are beyond what we have available, we say that that situation is stressful – and we react with a classical stress response. On the other hand, if we decide our available resources and skills are more than enough to deal with a situation, it is not seen as stressful to us.