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Stress Defined
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Stress Response

The Stress Response

The stress response is based on a primitive reaction called the fight-or-flight response. This response prepares the mind and body for self- defense-that is, either to fight, or to get out of the situation.

The Stress Response involves several reactions:

  • The sympathetic nervous system is stimulated
  • The body releases adrenalin, cortisone, thyroid hormones, and endorphins into the blood stream in order to protect the body and speed up the metabolism
  • Both heart rate and respiration become faster so that more blood and oxygen can be pumped through the system
  • The blood thickens; fuel (in the form of cholesterol and blood sugar) is secreted
  • All senses become more acute
  • Some systems, like the digestive system, slow down because their function during an emergency is less important.

Some people believe that the fight-or-flight response is the source of our problems with stress. Originally an adaptive behavior that evolved to protect early humans in life-threatening situations, the fight-or-flight response has in many ways become the bane of our existence.

Why? Because we use it in situations for which it was not intended. Not all stress-provoking situations are life-threatening, but the body doesn't know that. As a result, we use the fight-or-flight response more frequently than our bodies were designed to withstand. Also, we prolong the response. The fight-or-flight response is an immediate, short-term mechanism, intended to last only until the dangerous situation is resolved. The body is then supposed to return to its resting state. Often, this is not the case, as our stress-provoking thoughts keep our bodies in a state of emergency long beyond the need.

Too Much Wear and Tear
Our bodies were not constructed to withstand the demands of the fight-or-flight response for long periods. Hence, problems occur when we experience high levels of stress over time. The fight-or-flight response affects all your organ systems. As these systems fatigue, you gradually develop a range of physical and mental health problems.


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