Define Stress and its Five stages (Part 2)

businessman under stress cycle

Stress cycle. Image courtesy of kibsri/

The deer and lion story is where I finished off in the last blog post. What has it to do with people you may ask and how does it define stress?

Well we share the same stress cycle mechanism as animals but our higher level of intelligence, self awareness and modern way of life come at a price…it short circuits the built in stress cycle, which creates chronic stress that research demonstrates will make you ill, shrink your brain and shorten your lifespan.

Back to the Stress Cycle, this time using Tony as an example.

Tony is in the office at work stage 1 ‘normal’. He is a hard worker with a wife and 2 children. He has just finished a report that he has put a great deal of time and energy into. The manager walks in and Tony greets him in his usual friendly manner. The manager is dismissive and doesn’t answer, and makes a sarcastic remark as he walks towards his office.

Tony enters stage 2 ‘stressor’, the manager’s behavior has triggered a stress response. Tony is a 40 year old man who is able to rationalize and laugh things off, he is not one to fly into wild emotional states, but because the stressor button has been activated whether Tony likes it or not, his brain and body go into stage 3 ‘reaction’.

All the physiological reactions take place in his body just like when the deer smelled the lion:

  • adrenalin and cortisol are pumped into the blood stream
  • heart beat increases
  • blood pressure rises
  • breathing increases
  • blood is directed from the stomach, intestines, organs and skin and is sent to the large muscles and brain
  • sweating increases
  • the immune system cuts back to numb short term pain

These changes are experienced as:

  • Light head
  • Racing mind
  • Poor concentration
  • Dilated pupils
  • Tense neck & shoulders
  • Fast and shallow breathing
  • Queasy stomach
  • Sweating
  • Dry mouth
  • Tight throat
  • Pounding heart
  • Clammy cold hands

So now Tony is all keyed up ready for ‘action’ he moves into stage 4- Action. However the built in stress mechanism has two responses which I’m sure you have all heard…flight or fight. The antelope either runs or fights, all this physical action uses up the stress chemicals (the fight or flight response). But in Tony’s case he can’t run away or fight the boss so he just deals with it internally and puts on a pleasant, brave or professional face but he is literally stewing in his own juices. His body has been physiologically prepared for physical action but there is none, so it short circuits the stress cycle and instead of moving into the next stage ‘relaxation’ Tony’s autonomic nervous system gets stuck in the stress response.

This in itself is a stressor which can trigger the stress response over and over again through the day leaving the relaxation response way behind…as it takes 30 minutes to rebalance the body and clean up the hormonal mess after each trigger. The more stressed you become the easier the stress response triggers the more things can set you off. It is this imbalance and the long term effects of chronic stress that is doing all the damage.

The only way to rebalance this and de-stress your body and brain is high quality deep relaxation on a regular basis.

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