|Stress: the Silent Killer
Introduction to Stress: Signs, Symptoms, Sources, Causes and Management
STRESS: if we ask a 100 people what stresses them, each person will give a different
answer: each one will need a different solution.
excessive stress at some time in their lives.
- Stress is not a personal weakness you have: most people will suffer from
- Stress is chronic "overload": it is detrimental and lethal to our wellbeing.
- It is a serious condition - with potentially serious consequences.
- It is also a very individual experience: everybody is affected by it differently - see
also Anxiety, Depression and PTSD. Please check the Retreats-Workshop page
Managing Stress is about determining (analyzing) your source, or sources of stress, (all the things on your plate",
and then choosing, or selecting a strategy that will reduce the effects of stress, or remove the source.
What "stress" is, what it does, specifically, and why it is a "lethal killer".
This will be a bit of a long read: stress is complex and involves and affects a number of things.
Stress is using more of the body's energy that it is designed to handle, and makes it produce hormones that
temporarily add the energy needed for the situation or circumstances: but it comes at a price: while those
hormones temporarily get us through, at the same time they are lethally destructive to our bodies if they become
our new "norm" (see below)
Thus, stress means. Overload: it is a word borrowed from engineering that refers to a measurement of the sum total of
forces that will make an object reach its "breaking point" - so that it can be designed better, or to adapt by setting limits
on how it is used. But we humans also have "breaking points" that cannot not be re-engineered or redesigned (readily):
but with the sum total of things we have going on in our lives, it can easily become lethal by making us reach our
"breaking points". Stress begins as a Fight, Flight, or Flee reaction to danger (whether real or imagined); it involves fear.
NOTE: it is NOT the brain that determines whether any action is necessary - it only receives the message from
our mind that it has determined that an immediate response to an important situation is necessary (many people
fail to note the distinction between Mind/Brain - they are NOT synonyms.
When that message is received, the regulating centres of the total nervous system give the body information to speed
up in preparation to confront or escape the threat. Since chemical balances affect the mind's moods, the brain
responds quickly and appropriately to maintain the balance.
If necessary, it will attempt to compensate for deficits in the rest of the system by secreting its own chemicals in
response to the 'directions' it receives from the glands. In response, the mouth dries and hearing becomes extremely
acute. If the reaction is particularly intense, posture will change completely and the person will become alert, or even
rigid. The eyeballs move back a little into their sockets to improve the range of vision and the pupils dilate, giving the
familiar wide-eyed appearance of fright.
Since the bloodstream must deliver huge quantities of oxygen to the muscles,
stimulation of hormones from the sympathetic nervous system acting on the hair follicles in the skin.
- the nostrils flare to allow increased amounts of it to flow into the lungs.
- Drops of sweat appear, the skin will change colour and the hair might stand on end due to the extreme
the brain cells to help stimulate the thought processes.
- Muscles tense to deal with the challenge and blood pulsates through the head to provide more oxygen for
leaving the hands and feet cold and sweaty.
- The respiratory rate increases, blood drains from the extremities and is pooled in the trunk and head,
Adrenaline and noradrenaline will be "dumped" into the bloodstream. These hormones are produced by the adrenal
glands and each has a different effect on the heart rate, dilation and contraction of blood vessels and blood pressure.
They prepare the body for fight or flight, to facilitate whatever action is chosen.
and fighting take energy,
- The output of blood from the heart increases, boosting the pulse rate and blood pressure, and since both running
and energy, and redirects these resources to where they are most needed instead. This of course leads to
- an emergency supply of sugar is mobilized quickly and supplied in a form that the muscles can use directly.
- The body considers digestion as an expendable process at this time, since it requires vast amounts of blood
incomplete digestion, and explains why people suffering from high-stress often have gastro-intestinal problems.
Cortisone and hydrocortisone (also called cortisol) are also "dumped" into the bloodstream. Cortisol helps the body
cope with stress, and is thus a `friendly' substance in any stressful encounter, whereas adrenaline can be a 'foe'.
However, overproduction of cortisone can have a weakening effect on the body's immune system - so that the ability
to fight off the invading organisms which cause infection is reduced. Almost certainly, the continual stimulation of the
adrenal glands that forces them to supply a constant flow of cortisone, may account for the high vulnerability to minor
infections or illnesses during prolonged stress.
After reacting to the alarm, the body attempts to adapt to the new situation by resisting its initial response, in an effort
to return to a balanced state. However, we have a limited amount of adaptive energy and the body must be given
relief from the biochemical changes or a chronic high stress state results. Unless the source is removed, or we find
other, more effective ways to adapt, the regulatory centres of the brain will tend to over-react. This would eventually
progress to exhaustion, potential breakdown and ultimately death. It is the way the body responds and signals that a
dangerous level is reached, that is vital.
"Stress" is very complex, but it is our reaction to stressful events, and not the events themselves which is important!
What counts is our ability to adapt to the circumstances we find ourselves in, and it is at this point that the opportunity
for putting our social learning (our culturally acquired "response repertoire") into effect arises.
As we grow older, the stress reaction releases cholesterol into the bloodstream, and when not used up through
physical action, it is deposited on the artery walls. The passages become narrower and the heart has to work harder
to push blood along. Chronic high-stress can turn transient (temporary) high blood pressure (hypertension) into
permanent high blood pressure. People who experience a lot of stress in this way are highly probable candidates
for heart disease.
All sorts of things can generate arousal: and yes, arousal creates stress, one's first kiss, or falling in love, produce
stress reactions, just as the death of a loved one does. By "arousal" I'm referring to anything that will result in changes
our bodies must adjust to. Stress is the consequence of that arousal, or from the pressures of avoiding it. It is a state
of being that is readily evident to those who have developed their self awareness. Without it we would have nothing
to stimulate us into action, or change the course of our lives when things go wrong. The dilemma for each of us is to
establish the appropriate level for efficient functioning. A certain amount of "stress" is necessary simply to get out of
bed in the morning. In just the right amounts it makes us feel energetic, and motivates us to be competent and
pleased to be involved in life.
Stress operates on a curve called the Human Function Curve (see below). This means that performance alters
depending on the amount of stress or arousal we experience. Up to a certain point, performance improves as
arousal increases, but beyond that, fatigue or excess anxiety creep in. Some people perform better under the
pressure of a deadline. However, when the critical point on the curve is reached, the first stage of negative
conditions is encountered, for any further arousal will lead to a marked deterioration in performance. It will suffer
and decline in direct proportion to the amount of additional stress, followed by exhaustion, illness and possible
breakdown if arousal is not decreased. The point at which the rising curve starts to tip downward is not predictable,
for it depends entirely on individual factors, but is reached progressively earlier with increasing age.
The delicate balance between stress and coping, is destroyed when one more "problem" is piled on top of all the
others (the straw that broke the camel's back). The tensions become too great and lead to breakdown; perhaps
because of an infection, an emotional disorder, or because the physical strength to struggle decreases. Under
these conditions the body becomes incapable of producing any more defence hormones to respond to any
additional stress. This inability to cope brings total chaos to the system and resistance to disease is so reduced
that the likelihood of contracting a physical illness is greatly increased.
Stress can be divided into three phases: shock, mobilization for controlling it, and breakdown. This is called the
General Adaptation Syndrome. The first phase, shock, is the most dramatic. There are events we consider as
"shocking", and others which we don't think of this way (we saw the physiological effects above).
The body cannot make such distinctions, it simply responds to whatever incoming stimuli the MIND interprets as
dangerous. A sudden, unexpected increase in work load when already rushed for time represents a shock to the body,
just as being robbed or assaulted would. Thus our ability to function well decreases as shown in the following diagrams.
Stress is OVERLOAD.
To take the Stress Test (contact me).
Suggested reading: Awesome Stress Analogy
Anxiety disorders are stress responses that are both excessive and inappropriate. Anxiety disorders nterfere with
your ability to function normally on a daily basis. They include such things panic attacks and phobias, etc
While stress does involve events and our response to them, these are not the most important factors. It is Our
thoughts about the situations in which we find ourselves, are the critical and often are the main source of stress (but
not always). Sources of stress are called "stressors". Stress is NOT a disorder - it is overload that
Physiological Responses: there are a number bodily ones that occur either simultaneously or in a sequence
(you can learn more about this in the Stress & Stress Management workshop.) See the following diagram for
examples of the physiological effects:
Physiological effects. There are also psycho-emotional consequences (psychological-emotional - see below).
"Freezing" or "getting rattled" are just different descriptions of an extreme anxiety state that is the psychological
equivalent to physiological shock. Chronic high-stress can turn transient (temporary) high blood pressure (hypertension)
into permanent high blood pressure. People whose stress manifests this way are likely candidates for heart disease. As
blood pressure rises and muscle tension increases, resting heart rate and serum cholesterol may rise, all increasing
the Coronary Heart Disease (CHD) risk factor. Quite often, these people ignore their poor health habits, making them
even less efficient, which in turn, produces even more tension to aggravate the situation.
It is a killer, because the effects of the "stressors" is cumulative, each one stays with us for approx 365 days. Thus the
levels increase continually. NOTE: it is seldom any "large" thing that pushes us over the "edge", so to speak. Rather, it
is the cumulative, additive effect of each small stressor after another, and the balance begins to tip until just
one more small item makes it "flop over".
See the graphic at the right for sources/causes of
stress & anxiety in day-to-day life (stressors).
One cause of Stress is "inner pain", and people:
- learn to avoid feeling excitement by holding their
breath or squeezing muscles.
- Tightening against intense pleasure pain;
- emotions: fear, joy, anger, grief, orgasm, laughter.
Chronic excessive muscular tension due to attitudes
and holding on to inner pain is a system of habitual
muscular contractions that keep a person's
spontaneous impulses in.
- A holding against feeling, emotion, expression.
- Repression, depression.
- Depressing yourself.
- It absorbs energy: hinders spontaneous body
function: sensation, sensitivity, creativity,
productivity, communication and feeling.
Click on graphic to enlarge
* Producing deadness, numbing whole areas of the body; inhibiting breathing, movement, the flow of energy.
* Attitude: Holding onto hurts brings fixation:
* Fixation is stunting growth.
* Creating in a person the experience of being blocked off, in a dream like state of half aliveness:
halts the process of actualizing the Human Potential.
* Stuck: separate from him/herself and the excessive tension, words, sensory limitation all lead to
automatic, conditioned behaviour.
* A lack of joy, honesty, humour, love: being bored to death; deliberate, phoney.
Sources/Causes of Stress / Anxiety
There are many: financial problems, family
codependence and denial - and many more
The major ones are FEAR and our attitude.
Also see the workshop page.
How Does one manage or cope with stress?
There are as many ways to cope with stress, or to
manage or reduce it, as there are people.
Each person finds their own coping mechanisms
and strategies. Some work well - others not so well.
Anxiety & phobias usually require professional help.
Relaxation for Body & Mind - Stress Buster
I offer a form of Deep Relaxation & Autogenic
Training that effectively goes "below your mind"
- so deep that it leaves you renewed, refreshed and
re-empowered (see Retreats).
Dawn Cove Abbey
Deerfield, (Yarmouth Cty) Nova Scotia, Canada 2010-20
Click on graphic to enlarge
Stress is often considered to be
something that happens to
people: an event such as an injury
or a promotion. Others think that
stress is what happens to our
bodies, minds and behaviours in
response to an event (e.g, heart
pounding, anxiety, or nail biting).
The official Health and Safety
definition of stress is: ’Stress
is the adverse reaction people
have to excessive pressures
or other types of demand placed
upon them. It arises when they
worry they can’t cope’. "Stress"
is not just one thing, or a single
event, that happens to us.
Everything we experience "stays
with us" much longer than we
realize: the after-effects of each
event stay around for at least a year.
Klaas Tuinman M.A.
Life Self-Empowerment Facilitation
at Dawn Cove Abbey
Comments and Questions are welcomed