Stress is felt when a person perceives that they do
not have the resources to deal with a particular situation.
This includes not having sufficient money, time, energy,
In many cases this is a negative situation – that
is; they cannot fulfil something that is required of
them. But stress may also be felt in positive situation,
such a winning a large sum or money,
getting married, having a first child.
Although these latter situations may be regarded as
positive life experiences, that feeling of lacking can
also apply; not knowing what to do with all that money,
am I making the right decision getting married, will
the wedding go to plan, what really happens in child-birth.
All these factors have one underlying theme –
a sense of not being in control.
Inherent or Instinctive Stress
Our body has an inherent built in stress mechanism
that controls how we instinctively deal with stress.
It is known as the Fight or Flight Response.
This response system triggers our basic survival instinct
to drive hormonal release to prepare our body to deal
with the stress situation.
Fight and flight are acute responses; they occur at
the intial trigger point of the stress event.
Should the stressful event continue the body starts
adapting to the stress. Such situations may include
suffering the loss of a loved one through death or divorce,
prolonged bad weather, sustained difficulties in the
This is known as the General Adaption Syndrome,
and typically has three phases:
Phase 1: Alarm Reaction
The first phase of the general adaptation syndrome
is ones immediate instinctive reaction to a stressor.
This is known as the alarm reaction; our “fight
or flight" response, as mentioned above. It only
occurs when we encounter something unexpected.
Phase 2: Stage of Resistance
During this phase, if the stress continues, the body
starts to adapt to the stressors. Physiological changes,
triggered by hormones, kick into action to reduce the
effect of the stressor. These hormones may trigger a
number of systemic activities, such as:
- Focus our attention on the threat, keeping us alert
to survive any life-threatening events.
- Increase heart rate and blood pressure, delivering
more oxygen and blood sugar to power important muscles
to help us run faster or fight harder.
- Increase sweating in an effort to cool these muscles,
and help them stay efficient.
- In starvation - desire for physical activity to
conserve energy, and may also maximise the absorption
of nutrients from food.
- In freezing condition - divert blood away from
the skin to maintain the heat of critical organs.
- Serious Injuries - divert blood away from the skin
to the core of our bodies, reducing blood loss.
Phase 3: Stage of Exhaustion
Should the stress continue for some time, the body's
resistance to the stress may gradually be reduced, or
may quickly collapse. One common sign of this phase
is that the person may experience illness, develop diseases
such as high blood pressure, and eventually suffer a
All of these conditions indicate the immune system
is severely compromised. One form of this is commonly
referred to as “burn out”
Before we reach this stage, every tasks may become
more difficult, purely do to our lack of ability to
deal with them. In phase one and two, we are in an “excited”
state and may appear, anxious, jumpy and irritable to
others. This does not foster good relationships. You
may also find yourself more accident-prone and less
able to make good decisions. Many of the physiological
responses that help us during phase one dissipate, as
we are not engaging in “unexpected” situations.
What constitutes a “stressful” situation
varies from person to person.
For some, the frustration felt when being interrupted
during a period of intense concentration is stressful.
For others, enduring someone else’s music is stressful.
It generally comes back to that sphere of control again
– someone has intruded in my space. I note with
interest, that many American men stand very close to
me when talking. I find this uncomfortable, as it is
not a trait shared with New Zealand men. This intrusion
into my sphere of comfort is somewhat stressful for
me. I can either fight, by asking them to step back,
or flight, by stepping back myself. To American women,
used to this, may find it quite normal, feeling no stress
response at all. Hence, the intensity of stress is highly
variable and is a normal part of everyday life.
However, few everyday events can be dealt with by this
simple fight or flight decision and response. We are
subjected to enduring stresses that need to be dealth
with in a rational, calm and controlled manner.
Fortunately, we do have a factor we can control, which
significantly impacts the development of each phase
of the General Adaption Syndrome. This factor is the
way that we think and interpret the situations in which
we find ourselves. By understanding how we can use our
body and mind together, we can divert the long term
impact of stress.
Keep Reading :
Next: Mental Burnout
- What Happens and Why
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