Stress is a natural part of life. These days there are very few who don’t get stressed over money, the economy, the housing market, jobs or even family. Our bodies naturally react to stress through blood pressure, heart rate, respiration, body temperature and muscle contractions. Everyone deals with stress on different levels and in different ways. However, if one is not able to deal with stress it can ultimately lead to mental and physical exhaustion.
It wasn’t until the 1930’s that the word stress was used to characterize a condition where a stressor causes stimulus. Hans Selye, an endocrinologist, witnessed an inappropriate physiological response to demand placed on a human or animal. Before coining the term stress was considered a normal part of daily function and encounters that results in strain. Now, we know that stress plays an important part in physical, emotional and mental well being.
Stress is defined as a failure to respond appropriately to emotional or physical threats whether they are real or imagined. The signs of stress are easily recognizable and can present themselves as cognitive, behavioral, emotional or physical symptoms. Therefore when presented with stress one’s whole demeanor, attitude and presence can change. Cognitive, emotional and behavioral symptoms include poor judgment, negative outlook, anxiety, worrying, moodiness, irritability, agitation, inability to relax, loneliness, isolation, depression, lack of concentration and absentmindedness. Physical symptoms include increased heart rate, breathing, energy, blood pressure, cholesterol and production of sweat. Stress can also cause physical symptoms of aches and pain, diarrhea, constipation, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, chest pain, upset stomach and headache. Chronic stress that occurs over a longer period of time consistently can cause both physical and psychological damage to a person. Long-term stress depresses the immune system leaving it susceptible to infections, disease, and illness. Stress promotes the accumulation of visceral fat, which is a leading cause of obesity. Additional chronic stress has been connected to ulcers, cancer, heart disease, increased outbreaks of psoriasis, depression and diabetes. In children who experience chronic stress a stunt to developmental growth is normally seen.
Stress is normally given a bad connotation, which implies it is negative. However, most people forget or don’t mention good stress. When Hans Selye discovered stress, he studied all types of stress and realized that stress even when its good is still a stress nonetheless. He developed eustress or good stress and distress or bad stress. Eustress is a condition that enhances ones physical or mental function such as exercise, marriage, having a baby or a promotion. Where as, distress is persistent stress that is not resolved through coping or adaptation, which can lead to symptoms of withdrawal or anxiety. The difference between good and bad stress is based upon one’s past experiences, personal expectations, and the resources to cope with stress.
Coping with stress is not an easy task. Everyone adapts to stress differently and some people have an easier time dealing with stress than others. The way that the body reacts to a stressor is understood through the General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS), which describes the effects of stress on the body. Depending upon the intensity and duration of the stressor will determine if the stress is acute-short term or chronic-long term. At the first sign of stress the bodies stress response is in a state of alarm. The body reacts by producing adrenaline which causes a fight or flight response. Fight or flight is the body’s way of preparing to fight (cope, adapt) or flee. The second stage is the resistance to stress. If a stressor persists the body must find a means of coping with the stress. Does the body have a way to adapt to the strain or demands of the surrounding environment? As we cope with stress, the body’s resources (nutrients, enzymes, proteins, amino acids, vitamins, minerals) are gradually depleted. The final stage is exhaustion where the body’s resources are completely used up, leading to inability to function normally. Weakness, fatigue decreased energy, inability to concentrate or think clearly are all signs of exhaustion. Long-term exhaustion can be detrimental to ones health and can manifest disease. Although, these stages represent a model of how stress affects the body, stress can manifest itself differently in every person.
No two people will respond to the exact same stressor in the exact same way. Life experience and social background play a role in determining ones ability to cope with stress. Normal responses to stress include adaptation, coping, anxiety and depression. Coping mechanisms include stress management. Stress management provides individuals with techniques to handle stress on a daily basis. Learning to cope with stress will help you live a happier, healthier life.
Sarah Labdar – About the Author:
Graduated with a BA in exercise science and have worked in the medical field since. My focus is alternative medicine however all aspects of health interest me. Check out my health website!
One day a young man was standing in the middle of the town proclaiming that he had the most beautiful heart in the whole valley.
Yes, they all agreed it truly was the most beautiful heart they had ever seen. The young man was very proud and boasted more loudly about his beautiful heart. Suddenly, an old man appeared at the front of the crowd and said,”Why your heart is not nearly as beautiful as mine.” The crowd and the young man looked at the old man’s heart. It was beating strongly, but full of scars, it had places where pieces had been removed and other pieces put in, but they didn’t fit quite right and there were several jagged edges.
In fact, in some places there were deep gouges where whole pieces were missing.
The people stared — how can he say his heart is more beautiful, they thought? The young man looked at the old man’s heart and saw its state and laughed. “You must be joking,” he said. “Compare your heart with mine, mine is perfect and yours is a mess of scars and tears.”
“Yes,” said the old man, “yours is perfect looking but I would never trade with you. You see, every scar represents a person to whom I have given my love – I tear out a piece of my heart and give it to them, and often they give me a piece of their heart which fits into the empty place in my heart, but because the pieces aren’t exact, I have some rough edges, which I cherish, because they remind me of the love we shared. Sometimes I have given pieces of my heart away, and the other person hasn’t returned a piece of his heart to me.
These are the empty gouges — giving love is taking a chance. Although these gouges are painful, they stay open, reminding me of the love I have for these people too, and I hope someday they may return and fill the space I have waiting. So now do you see what true beauty is?”
The young man stood silently with tears running down his cheeks. He walked up to the old man, reached into his perfect young and beautiful heart, and ripped a piece out.
He offered it to the old man with trembling hands. The old man took his offering, placed it in his heart and then took a piece from his old scarred heart and placed it in the wound in the young man’s heart. It fit,
But not perfectly, as there were some jagged edges. The young man looked at his heart, not perfect anymore but more beautiful than ever, since love from the old man’s heart flowed into his. They embraced and walked away side by side.
A little story: Once there were two children who lived in the inner city in Dublin. They were twins, a boy and a girl. They had no chance in life. Even as babies they were addicts – even before they left the womb. Their mother was addicted to heroin. The father came and went bringing violence and abuse with him. The children lived in squalor. They had no education, barely enough to eat, and resorted to thieving to feed their mother’s addiction. At last they were taken into care but nothing could change the pattern of their childhood. They ran away and spent long periods on the streets. The boy developed his own drug habit by the age of twelve. The girl broke away. She experienced abuse in the guise of help and realized there was no authority under the sun she could trust. But then as if a voice inside her had spoken she decided she would build her own life, from the ground up. She managed, with difficulty, to find a job and a room. After some time she took literacy classes, and then progressed to night-school. Finally she enrolled in college and gained a qualification. As the years passed she married, bought a house and had children. One day she was walking over O’Connell Bridge and she saw a figure hunched inside a sleeping bag, begging with a plastic cup in front of him. It was her brother – her twin. He didn’t see her.
The brother never made it. He didn’t have the same opportunities. And yet their opportunities were exactly the same.
How is this possible? It wasn’t nature and it certainly wasn’t nurture – both things had failed them completely. They had no chance in life. So how did one rise up and the other didn’t?
I have no answer to this. One could look for little sociological clues or say, perhaps, that the father had managed to spare an ounce more love for the girl than for the boy. Somehow it feels as if you have to say something: find some excuse for life.
I pondered over this and came up with one or two contributory elements, apparently unrelated. The first was that, ‘You only receive what you can cope with’. I believe this – that life gives you what you can handle, whether it seems fair or not. It’s not a question of what you deserve but what you can cope with. This doesn’t quite fit in, in terms of finding explanations, excuses or justifications. Even if the shoulders are weak they carry the burden up to the last breath. I could go on and say, the greater the heart the greater the load, until there is a universe to bear. If a god’s own steps are slowed with the burden he has to bear, then a human love might step in to help. I think we’re in this position in life: that we bear the burden we can cope with in order that the divine can carry the universe. In other words, by bearing the load – often without any explanation or help – we perform a service for the divine in us. Even if we don’t know there is any divine there at all.
The second element is the question of heart. In the story the girl seems to have more ‘heart’ – in the sense of being able to lift herself up – than the boy. Why is this? Both are like people lying on a bed of burning coals with feet pressing them down. Why does one have the heart to get up while the other doesn’t? This is just the original question put in a different form. Is it that one is born with the heart while the other isn’t? We’ve already established that both were born addicted. For me the answer is that the heart has to be given. In this case it has to be given by the divine: the divine returns the help it has received through the human being carrying its burden. This again brings up the question, ‘Why does one deserve help and not the other?’
I believe the answer lies in my third element which is: Powerlessness. Powerlessness soaks the argument out of you. It is the opposite of ‘world’. The world is power. It has fullness, resources, opportunities. Powerlessness leaves you like an empty, burnished bowl. It is the only time in life when it’s justified to say that the human being is an empty vessel which has to be filled up – when powerlessness has done its work. This is the great theme of tragedy: catharsis. In drama the point comes when the gods say, ‘It’s done – that’s enough’. In life it’s the same: the empty bowl can be filled with the flame of ‘heart’ which is the only real power in the world. I think this is the only explanation why one rises up and the other doesn’t – the words, ‘It is enough’.
All these ‘contributory elements’ aren’t explanations at all. But neither are they excuses or justifications. Just try and find a satisfying answer to problems like this that doesn’t include judgements or excuses for life: ‘He must have deserved it’; ‘it was his karma’; ‘she had something in her that he didn’t’; ‘there must have been something different that gave her a chance’. I would personally like to find comprehensive answers that don’t impose further burdens. Too often the feet pressing you down on the burning coals have some connection to religion. And I like answers which belong within the spiritual nature of the human being. To my mind those will have ‘heart’ and the chance of personal responsibility.
However, all this circling around the question is just the way my particular mind works. I would love to hear from anyone who has more experience or different insights!
Jay Landar – About the Author:
Take a walk with author and poet Jay Landar through worlds of fantasy, inspiration and insight. On the way you will see the people and problems of today – the trials of the globe we all inhabit as it grows towards a new era. Find the truth of the inner self and the gentle light it sheds on these struggles – a light which can only grow stronger. Romance, Truth and Beauty are the keywords of my articles. Please join me on our walk through these worlds!