Define Stress and its Five stages (Part 1)

deer sitting on the grass after fight or flight response

Relaxation after ‘fight or flight’ response. Image courtesy of Dr Joseph Valks/

Firstly let’s define stress. It’s a totally natural process and a fact of life; it can be a motivational force or a survival mechanism. There is a stress mechanism that is programmed into all of us. It’s a survival mechanism we share will all animals.

The danger comes from not properly recovering from stress and it accumulates in your body and nervous system. This chronic stress literally poisons you in a cocktail of stress hormones affecting your brain, mind and body. So stress and chronic stress are different. The former is natural and useful and the latter isn’t.

The Stress Cycle has five stages and for animals in the wild, an animal moves natural through all five stages, which is healthy. But as you will see in the next newsletter, we people get stuck in this cycle and spiral into unhealthy stress accumulation.

Imagine a deer grazing on the plain. It’s at stage 1normal‘. Suddenly he smells a lion; he is now in stage 2stressor‘. Immediately the animal goes into stage 3reaction‘.

Remember the reaction is to the smell of the lion which is the stressor and has triggered the sympathetic or stress part of the autonomic nervous system. So now its body automatically reacts and within two to ten seconds:

  1. adrenalin and cortisol is pumped into the blood stream
  2. heart beat increases
  3. blood pressure rises
  4. breathing increases
  5. blood is directed from the stomach, intestines, organs and skin and is sent to the large
  6. muscles and brain
  7. brain becomes more alert
  8. sweating increases
  9. the immune system cuts back to numb short term pain
  10. mouth becomes dry

Remember, all these happened automatically and within seconds because it’s a survival mechanism: the “fight or flight” response. The deer is now ready for stage 4action‘. The deer will have two alternatives: fight or flight. It’s that simple, there is no thinking or deliberating. It may stand off and fight if cornered but will run as soon as it gets a chance. In this story the deer got away and now it goes into stage 5relaxation‘. It simply lies down under a tree completely relaxes until its metabolism returns to normal. This is due to the ‘switching on’ of the para-sympathetic nervous system – the natural stress antidote system that cleans up the metabolic mess from the stress system activation. This takes about 30 minutes but deer don’t worry about the time so that’s ok. It then moves into stage 1 ‘normal’ and continues to graze. This completes the natural stress cycle.

As I mentioned before, this is an example of how the stress cycle naturally works but unfortunately for most of us, modern living short circuits this cycle which causes what we call stress – the unnatural accumulation (chronic stress) as will be revealed in the next blog. In the meantime try a relaxation CD or relaxation Mp3 to restore the natural stress cycle!

My CDs and MP3’s all have Alpha brainwave entrainment, which powerfully switches on your natural built-in stress antidote system and gets rid of the chronic stress no matter what your age or lifestyle, these will benefit you!

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