What is Stress – and Why Do We Care?

· stress

Looking for some notes on anxiety I came across my old time-worn notes on Stress and Stress Management. With a flash of insight (or impulse, I’m not sure yet), I thought – let’s give it to my readers! Now most days that would be a ludicrous thought and dismissed immediately, but not today.
So the following is every I know about stress and stress management. It’s in outline form, but I think you will get it. In fact, I’m relying on your native intelligence to understand what you are about to read, without explanation.
WARNING: Its long, and its a lot of info, and even so, it will be in two or three separate posts. I hope you like it, and I hope it helps:

The stress response of the body is somewhat like an airplane readying for take-off. Virtually all systems (e.g. the heart and blood vessels, the immune system, the lungs, the digestive system, the sensory organs, and brain) are modified to meet the perceived danger.

External and Internal Stressors
People can experience either external or internal stressors.
• External stressors include adverse physical conditions (such as pain or hot or cold temperatures) or stressful psychological environments (such as poor working conditions or abusive relationships). Humans, like animals, can experience external stressors.
• Internal stressors can also be physical (infections, inflammation) or psychological. An example of an internal psychological stressor is intense worry about a harmful event that may or may not occur. As far as anyone can tell, internal psychological stressors are rare or absent in most animals except humans.
Acute or Chronic Stress
Stressors can also be defined as short-term (acute) or long-term (chronic).

Acute Stress. Acute stress is the reaction to an immediate threat, commonly known as the fight or flight response. The threat can be any situation that is experienced, even subconsciously or falsely, as a danger.

Common acute stressors include:
• noise,
• crowding,
• isolation,
• hunger,
• danger,
• infection, and
• imagining a threat or remembering a dangerous event.

Under most circumstances, once the acute threat has passed, the response becomes inactivated and levels of stress hormones return to normal, a condition called the relaxation response.

Chronic Stress. Frequently, however, modern life poses on-going stressful situations that are not short-lived and the urge to act (to fight or to flee) must be suppressed. Stress, then, becomes chronic. Common chronic stressors include:
• on-going highly pressured work,
• long-term relationship problems,
• loneliness, and
• persistent financial worries.

The best way to envision the effect of acute stress is to imagine oneself in a primitive situation, such as being chased by a bear.
The Brain’s Response to Acute Stress
In response to seeing the bear, a part of the brain called the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) system is activated.

Release of Steroid Hormones. The HPA systems trigger the production and release of steroid hormones ( glucocorticoids), including the primary stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol is very important in marshaling systems throughout the body (including the heart, lungs, circulation, metabolism, immune systems, and skin) to deal quickly with the bear.

Release of Catecholamines. The HPA system also releases certain neurotransmitters (chemical messengers) called catecholamines, particularly those known as known as dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine (also called adrenaline).
• Catecholamines activate an area inside the brain called the amygdala, which apparently triggers an emotional response to a stressful event. (In the case of the bear, this emotion is most likely fear.)
• Neurotransmitters then signal the hippocampus (a nearby area in the brain) to store the emotionally loaded experience in long-term memory. In primitive times, this combination of responses would have been essential for survival, when long-lasting memories of dangerous stimuli (i.e. the large bear) would be critical for avoiding such threats in the future.
• During a stressful event, catecholamines also suppress activity in areas at the front of the brain concerned with short-term memory, concentration, inhibition, and rational thought. This sequence of mental events allows a person to react quickly to the bear, either to fight or to flee from it. (It also hinders the ability to handle complex social or intellectual tasks and behaviors.)

Response by the Heart, Lungs, and Circulation to Acute Stress
As the bear comes closer, the heart rate and blood pressure increase instantaneously.
• Breathing becomes rapid and the lungs take in more oxygen.
• Blood flow may actually increase 300% to 400%, priming the muscles, lungs, and brain for added demands.
• The spleen discharges red and white blood cells, allowing the blood to transport more oxygen.
The Immune System’s Response to Acute Stress
The effect on the immune system from confrontation with the bear is similar to marshaling a defensive line of soldiers to potentially critical areas.
• The steroid hormones dampen parts of the immune system, so that infection fighters (including important white blood cells) or other immune molecules can be redistributed.
• These immune-boosting troops are sent to the body’s front lines where injury or infection is most likely, such as the skin, the bone marrow, and the lymph nodes.
The Acute Response in the Mouth and Throat
As the bear gets closer, fluids are diverted from nonessential locations, including the mouth. This causes dryness and difficulty in talking. In addition, stress can cause spasms of the throat muscles, making it difficult to swallow.
The Skin’s Response to Acute Stress
The stress effect diverts blood flow away from the skin to support the heart and muscle tissues. (This also reduces blood loss in the event that the bear catches up.) The physical effect is a cool, clammy, sweaty skin. The scalp also tightens so that the hair seems to stand up.
Metabolic Response to Acute Stress
Stress shuts down digestive activity, a nonessential body function during short-term periods of physical exertion or crisis.
The Relaxation Response: the Resolution of Acute Stress
Once the threat has passed and the effect has not been harmful (ie, the bear has not eaten or seriously wounded the human), the stress hormones return to normal. This is known as the relaxation response. In turn, the body’s systems also normalize.

Did I say two or three part? It might be a few more than that, I have 41 pages of notes (single spaced). Tell you what, did you like this? was it helpful? would like to see more?

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