Stop the world, I
want to get off! -
Dr. Nick Hall
When we think of what
affects our emotional well-being, the first concept that probably
comes to mind is stress. Stress is a very complex subject. The word
itself is one of the most misused in the English language, both in
every day life and the medical field. Its correctly used as a
noun, a verb, and an adjective. But of all of its uses, its accepted
definition in society is also its most inaccurate.
stress has come to carry a solely negative connotation,
yet it is important to realize that stress is an intrinsic component
of good health. Stress is actually the stimulus that enables growth
and development to occur. Consider this: inhalation, the act of
expanding the lungs, is a stressor. This act of stress upon the lungs
is then balanced by the recovery of exhalation. Now, if you breathe
in and hold that breath, your body soon screams for its natural
balance to be restored. It is not stress itself that is the culprit.
Its the lack of recovery from the stressors bombarding us which
create havoc in our emotional and physical well-being. But through
your ability to use and manipulate your emotions, you can take
control of your physical and mental well-being.
Stress does create
physiological changes, many of which are actually triggered by
emotional reactions to the stressor. Stress is something to actively
seek out, because as long as its balanced by an equal amount of
recovery, your body and emotions are trained to withstand the stress
without experiencing injury.
This probably sounds
contradictory to what weve come to believe, since we are
constantly told that stress should be avoided at all costs or at
least reduced as much as is humanly possible. But this is absolutely
wrong. Just think of what happens to a broken leg - its encased
in a cast to protect it from all stress. Yes, this allows the bone to
heal, but what happens to the immobilized muscles during that healing
process? Exposed to no movement - no stress - they lose resiliency
and, after the cast is removed, require progressive retraining
through physical therapy before they can withstand even normal use.
If you were to eliminate all stress from your existence, you would
soon lose all emotional states - there would be no joy, no anguish,
no exuberance, no grief. Technically, if all stress were eliminated,
you would not even inhale and exhale. What would you be? Dead.
What we must realize is
that it is not stress itself which causes our problems - it is the
inappropriate responses to the stressors which ultimately lead to
harm. By training ourselves to recognize imbalance between stress and
recovery, we grasp the ability to recognize the imbalance created in
our emotional and physical states. And through the use of emotion, we
literally can alter our bodys physical response to the
stressors we encounter.
While everybody manifests
a stress response, it may vary from one individual to another. When
confronted with a major stressor, some people may experience a rapid
increase in heart rate. In others, the stomach feels as though it is
twisted in knots, with a major impact on the gastrointestinal system.
Yet others might experience tension headaches, caused by muscle
tension. Although all of these symptoms have an actual tendency to
occur, different individuals may have a predominance of one type of
symptom or another. And it is noteworthy that the form of response
will manifest in other types of situations as well.
There are different forms
of stress - in particular, acute versus chronic. Acute stress is what
happens within you when youre suddenly cut off on the highway
by a huge truck or when you climb aboard a roller-coaster for the
first time. Your mental resources and physical body are actually very
adept at dealing with this short-lived type of stress. What the mind
and body are not equipped to handle is chronic stress. Thats
because the response to stressors results in a switch from
unessential building processes to the process of breaking things down.
Chemicals are produced
within your body during the stress period as a response which enables
the conversion of energy into a useable form. One of the chemicals
involved in this process is cortisol, and one of its main missions is
to fuel the fight or flight response. This provides you
with the energy needed to get yourself out of a mess. But if the
stress is chronic - if you cannot remove yourself from the stressful
situation - the continual release of cortisol begins to take a severe
toll on the immune, cardiovascular and gastrointestinal systems.
Mental health may also
suffer and, because it takes energy to mobilize resources within your
body during the stress response period, lethargy may set in when
those sources of energy become depleted.