Health & Wellness Weight Loss Club

Understanding Stress

by Sonera Jhaveri Psychotherapist in Mumbai
Sonera Jhaveri Senior Psychotherapist in Mumbai
What is stress?

Stress is an ubiquitous and multilayered phenomenon that is an entrenched reality of our daily postmodern lives. In effect, the stress response has played a significant role in the evolution of our nervous system and was crucial for our survival on this planet. As hunter gathers we experienced acute stress when there were life-threatening perils from the environment confronting us for e.g. a wild animal that crossed the path of our foraging ancestors. In such instances, the human body would mobilize itself defensively and activate the autonomic nervous system to a fight, flight or freeze response to meet the demands of the situation.

When an organism is stressed and in either fight of flight mode, there are profound alterations due to the enervation of the sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system. Noticeable psychophysiological shifts take place such as an increase in the heart rate, blood pressure, respiration, muscle tension, sweat activity in conjunction with a cascade of neuro-endocrinological alterations. The adrenal-hypothalamus- pituitary axis gets activated and there are rapid secretions of the stress hormone cortisol along with blood moving from the periphery of the body i.e. the limbs to the core i.e. to the heart and lungs.

These psychosomatic shifts allow the organism to speed up the action that needed to be taken, which in most cases was either confrontation or agitated escape. However, in freeze mode, which occurs in profound experiences of trauma, the parasympathetic nervous, system dominates and the body drops in pressure, temperature, and mobility simulating a corpse. From an evolutionary perspective, the freeze mode was useful as on occasion predators may loose interest if the prey is already dead.

According to one of the pioneers in stress research Hans Seyle, upto a certain point stress is beneficial as it helps us take effective action when facing challenging conditions and this can be understood as “eu-stress.” As such, the stress response to a particular point helps us become focused and efficient and enables us to get things done while simultaneously it protects us from negative consequences that might pertain to our survival. Yet there is a certain threshold value to stress and beyond that stress starts becoming “di-stress” and it starts pathologically eroding and wearing and tearing down our cardiac-respiratory, immune, gastrointestinal and muscular-skeleton systems.

Stress becomes di-stress when the stress response is provoked chronically, which is, unfortunately the zeitgeist of our times. Today acute stress is replaced by chronic stress, where a biological threat is now a psychological one. We react to not finding a parking spot before an important meeting in the same way our ancestors reacted to encountering an avalanche near a mountain that might crush them. Our bodies have not caught up with the evolutionary shifts in our life style and so in a nutshell, our bodies are over reacting to the mundane pressures and irritants of every day living.

Due to a revolution in our material culture, life is now becoming faster and faster . . . we have faster computers, faster cars, faster communications and often our bodies lag behind and we have to whip ourselves to keep up our pace, to perform, to meet deadlines and to make money. As a result, our default existential state is that of an incessant low-grade activation of the autonomic nervous system, which keeps the bodymind latently stressed.

In busy urban areas, especially, we are almost all the time normalized to being unconsciously stressed to the point that we do not realize that we are stressed. This psychologically predisposes us to depression, irritation, frustration, mood swings, and angry outbursts, all of which underscore psychoemotional disturbances. Simultaneously we are prone to worsening any pre-existing medical disorder and susceptible to creating the causes and circumstances for diseases to take root in our bodyminds, highlighting psychosomatic over drive. Diabetes, hypertension, colitis, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, eczema and ulcers are a few stress related conditions.

How do we know we are stressed?

Since stress is an integral part of our lives, learning how to identify when we are stressed and what to do about de-stressing ourselves becomes paramount for our psychophysiological health and well being. Stress is a polyvalent experience and has cognitive, emotional, physiological and behavioral ramifications.
Mar 1st 2019 06:21

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