Stress is the body’s reaction to a physical, mental or emotional strain or tension. It is brought upon by physiological, psychological and environmental events that the body perceives as challenging, threatening or demanding. These events are called stressors.
DID YOU KNOW: Untreated chronic stress can result in serious health conditions including anxiety, insomnia, muscle pain, high blood pressure and a weakened immune system. Research shows that stress can contribute to the development of major chronic conditions, such as heart disease, depression and obesity. Some studies have even suggested that unhealthy chronic stress management, such as overeating “comfort” foods, has contributed to the growing obesity epidemic.
To make sense of “stress”, we must first understand “homeostasis”. Homeostasis refers to the body’s ability to regulate itself and maintain a comparatively stable internal environment despite external and internal conditions and events. It embodies the “wisdom of the body”. The body is designed to be in a state of homeostasis, where all the systems within are functioning optimally.
The body’s response to stress is initiated and controlled by our autonomic nervous system which consists of two major operating systems:
- The sympathetic nervous system, which produces the body’s stress response, also known as “fight or flight”; and
- The parasympathetic nervous system, which produces the body’s relaxation response, also known as “rest and digest.”
A stress response entails the release of hormones, such as cortisol, which effect of the body in the following ways:
- Changes in digestion (caused by increased blood flow to the muscles and reduced blood flow to the gastrointestinal tract)
- Dilation of blood vessels
- Increased breathing (respiration) rate
- Increased heart rate and blood pressure (caused by increased blood flow to the brain)
- Increased blood sugar levels (to provide more energy)
FACT: WITHIN THE BODY, STRESS AND HOMEOSTASIS ARE AT ODDS WITH ONE ANOTHER. STRESS PUSHES THE BODY OUT OF HOMEOSTASIS.
Eustress or positive stress is manageable stress which can lead to growth and enhanced competence.
Distress or chronic stress is uncontrollable, prolonged, or overwhelming stress. Once stress becomes distress, the body manages to survive though not always to thrive. For example, when faced with periods of chronic stress, the body’s immune system function is lowered, and the digestive, excretory, and reproductive systems no longer function the way they should. In a state of distress, the cells of the immune system (and other body systems) are unable to respond normally and produce levels of inflammation which increase the risk of further health issues.