The Science of Stress

How does stress cause harm to both the human body and the human brain?

For several years now, health professionals have been warning men and women of the dangers of bad stress management.

Many individuals continue to think that stress doesn’t affect the body and it’s “just a state of mind”.  That simply is not the case and if you find yourself ranking amongst the “stressed out” you need to know that the body’s normal reaction to stress is actually a physiological event.

In other words, stress profoundly affects our body and is not limited to our minds. Any time a person is stressed, their entire body experiences that stress and is impacted by it. Therefore the notion that stress is harmless because it’s somehow limited by our imagination is really a dangerous belief.

Why? Because when a person suffers from stress, especially chronic stress, they tend to have a much higher risk of developing health problems like hypertension  and making existing conditions worse. So if you want to be physically healthier, you need to know how stress can effect your body.

So how exactly does stress happen?

The current stress model offers us a straightforward and precise explanation of ways physiological stress is roused:

1st Phase: Emotional and mental Triggers are Engaged. You interprete a situation, circumstance, experience or even an idea as harmful or stressful.

2nd Phase: Psychological Stress Engaged. If you fail to stop your emotions and negative thinking, the existing circumstance leads to psychological stress.

3rd Phase: Physiological Stress or “Fight or Flight” Response: Unmitigated psychological stress usually leads to real, physiological stress.

Once the instinctive “fight or flight” response kicks in, an individual can feel an instantaneous rush of adrenaline, that briefly improves the person’s speed, strength and stamina.

The person’s respiration rate and pulse also increase in preparation for sudden, intense physical activity (e.g. running from an actual, physical threat).

Stress usually abates once the perceived threat or danger finally subsides. Thousands of years ago, the instinctive “fight or flight” reaction was in fact remarkably helpful for our hunter-gatherer ancestors since they needed to fight against wildlife and each other in pre-modern society.

Scientists feel that the stress response occurred since our ancestors were more or less always subjected to harmful and unsafe circumstances.

What are the signs that a person is experiencing stress?

Below are some common physical symptoms that a person is experiencing stress:

  • Inexplicable exhaustion or fatigue
  • Acute headaches that have a tendency to disrupt work or chores at home
  • Shallow chest breathing
  • Increased heart rate even when the person is not performing strenuous or challenging physical activities
  • Minor muscular pain
  • Twitches
  • Facial tics
  • Hand and arm tremors
  • A general feeling of nervousness and anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Oversleeping
  • Inexplicable perspiring of the hands and feet
  • Turning to different substances such as caffeine, alcohol, nicotine and even recreational drugs

The list of symptoms doesn’t stop there. Here is a breakdown of the mental symptoms associated with moderate to extreme stress:

  • Short temper
  • Feeling angry all the time
  • Inexplicable mood swings
  • Feeling of isolation and helplessness
  • Short term memory problems
  • General decrease in work productivity
  • Lowered sexual desire
  • Distracted thinking

Why do people experience psychological stress?

The psychological signs of stress often manifest when a person has been under stress for a long period of time. These signs come about because the mind is trying to escape the stressful situation however it can.

This is one of the main reasons why stressed individuals are often less productive in the office.

Their minds are so sick of the prolonged stress response that their own thought patterns are preventing them from focusing on the things they have to do.

The same thing happens to university students who are overwhelmed with the nature and volume of work they have to complete to pass different course subjects.

How severe are stress-related symptoms in the general population?

In the United States alone, it is estimated that 90% of all physician visits are associated with symptoms related to chronic stress. It has also been estimated that on a monthly basis, 400 million people take medication to ease these symptoms.

Of course, we know now that medicating a stress-related symptom is a futile effort because you’re not addressing the main cause of the symptom – you’re just padding the symptom itself.

Now, it should be noted that the symptoms we discussed earlier may also be genuine signs of other health conditions (and not just stress). Consulting with your physician is still your best option if you experience symptoms such as racing heart rate or persistent headaches.


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