Stress and the Body, Part 1

Are you stressed?

The word stress is often associated with anxiety and busyness. Whether you’re a leader in the corporate world, a start-up entrepreneur or a hands-on mom, we all experience stress in varying degrees.

What is stress? Stress was first observed among animals in a test laboratory.  Hans Selye in 1936, noted that after being exposed to physical and emotional stimuli, (like blaring noise, light, extreme temperature and frustration) “the animals exhibited pathological changes such as stomach ulcerations, shrinkage of lymphoid tissue and enlargement of the adrenals … persistent stress could cause these animals to develop various diseases similar to those seen in humans, such as heart attacks, stroke, kidney disease and rheumatoid arthritis.”

Stress then is a response of the body.

Psychology Today defines stress as reaction to a stimulus that disturbs our physical and mental equilibrium. What was mentioned by Selye in his observations is that stress can be persistent, long-term or chronic which can be harmful to our bodies. While there are also acute or temporary stressors that can elicit excitement and keep us active. We can say though that stress can both be good and bad for us.

The positive kind of stress called Good Stress raises your heart rate, makes you alert and pushes you to do more. In the recently concluded Miss Universe coronation night, when Miss France’s name was announced, her mouth was wide open in disbelief. That is a good kind of stress! She won the crown. When all the cameras are gone, she will then be subjected to a stress in fulfilling her role. She has to give it her best while t the same time enjoying the privilege and responsibility of being the most beautiful girl in in the universe.

Negative stress or distress manifests in hunched backs, drooped shoulders, anger, frustration and even hopelessness. Traffic, having a  rebellious teenager at home, meeting with an unreasonable boss or lazy co-workers,  financial strain, unpaid bills cause distress to a majority of us. These external stimuli may cause us to respond differently. Some may curse, others may retreat or hide, while some may try to solve their problems by creating more stress later on.

However, people also respond to a stressor or stimuli in different ways. Observe people sitting in traffic. There are those who will be on their phones calling the office. Others might have feelings of regret like “I should have taken the other route instead.” While some will be enjoying more screen time by logging on to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram or catch up on some reading.

We respond to stress differently based on our personality, coping mechanism, genetic predisposition, and social support. A seemingly negative situation or stressor will trigger one person to respond negatively while for another it may not even be a big deal.

So how do we know if we are under stress or in distress? Again, it may vary from person to person but here are some of the most common signs.

  • Physically or emotionally exhausted
  • Lethargic at times
  • Experience aches in the head, back, neck and stomach
  • Muscles are tight or tense; tight jaws
  • Short-tempered, anxious, and very temperamental
  • Clumsiness and even forgetfulness
  • Affects our food intake, either we eat more or have no appetite at all
  • Succumb to smoking, drinking and even drugs

So, are you stressed? Can you determine your stressors in life? Tell me about it. Watch out next week for part 2 of Stress and the Body.