Stress can mean different things to different people. Stress is defined as a conflict between the demands placed on us and our ability to cope. The way we cope with these demands will depend on many things. For example, the way we think, our personality and our previous life experiences can affect our stress levels.
We live in a world where we hear about stress all the time, we know of the health issues it can cause, the depression, heart disease and the suicides that have occurred from stress.
Stress is not a fad or a diminishing of one’s coping abilities or strategies. It is a danger to us. Ultimately it needs to be dealt with when it is presented.
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Good and Bad
As with everything in the world, there is good and bad, and therefore there is positive and negative stress. A positive stress influence can help compel us into action; it can result in a new awareness and an exciting new outlook on a situation, event or life itself.
Many things can trigger this stress, including change. Changes can be positive or negative, as well as real or perceived. These changes may be recurring, short-term, or long-term. Stress is the “wear and tear” we experience as we adjust to our continually changing environment, which creates the positive and negative physical and emotional effects.
How we cope
People differ dramatically in the type of events they interpret as stressful and the way in which they respond to such stress. For example, driving a car can be very stressful for some people and for others it’s simply relaxing.
The ability to tolerate stress is linked to our individual personality, our relationships, energy levels, and emotional maturity: For instance, if we are introverted, we are generally more comfortable with fewer stimuli than if we are more extroverted. If we are in unhappy relationships, it is energy consuming and therefore our energy levels become depleted and drained. The result is our resistance to stress is compromised. Also when we are recovering from illness or simply tired at the end of the day, our ways of dealing with the world around us are less robust.
The human “Freeze, Fight, Flight” response is written into our DNA. Its part of our blueprint. It’s a primitive design to allow the body to quickly adapt to its environment, in order to survive.
During a freeze-fight-flight episode, breathing rate speeds up. The nostrils and air passages in the lungs open wider to get more air in quickly. Next heartbeat speeds up and blood pressure rises, sweating increases to help cool the body and blood. Therefore nutrients are the concentrated in the muscles to provide us with extra strength.
Cortisol and Adrenaline
Cortisol is released by the adrenal glands. Stress Hormones, Epinephrine (also known as adrenaline) and norepinephrine (also known as noradrenaline) are produced. These hormones help you think and move fast in an emergency, in the right situation, they can save your life. They don’t linger in the body, and dissipate as quickly as they were created. Cortisol, on the other hand, streams through your system all day long, and that’s what makes it so dangerous.
But the hormones that are released and the physiological changes that occur are designed to be a “spurt” and not present long-term. Stress prolongs these changes because the body does not know that the threat is not real, as we live in stress, we have conditioned the body to believe it is in a permanent state of threat.
The physical and mental well-being is compromised by the permanent state of stress and the presence of cortisol in the system throughout the day. The result may produce psychological conditions such as emotional disorder, irritability leading to anger, a sense of rejection moving us into depression and Physical conditions such as immune response disorder, chronic muscle tension, and increased blood pressure. These problems can eventually lead to serious life-threatening illnesses such as heart attacks, kidney disease, and cancer.
Neuroscientists have discovered how chronic stress and cortisol can damage the brain. Stress triggers long-term changes in brain structure and function. Young people who are exposed to chronic stress early in life are more prone later in life to mental problems such as depression, anxiety, mood disorders as well as learning difficulties.
Changes In The Brain Structure
It has long been established that stress-related illnesses, such as post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD trigger changes in brain structure, including differences in size and connectivity of the amygdala. Our brains are mouldable through the plasticity nature of the structure, chronic stress can prevent the neuropathways, connectivity and fluidity of the plasticity making our brain structure rigid and less pliable.
The ‘stress hormone’ cortisol affects the neuropathways between the hippocampus and amygdala in a way that creates a vicious cycle within the brain leaving it predisposed to be in a constant state of freeze-fight-flight.