Our bodies are well equipped to handle stress in small doses, but it can seriously affect your body when that stress becomes long-term or chronic.
With sudden onset stress, the muscles tense up all at once and release their tension when the stress passes. Chronic stress causes the muscles in the body to be in a more or less constant state of guardedness. When muscles are taut and tense for long periods of time, this may trigger other body reactions and even promote stress-related disorders.
The American Psychological Association’s Stress in America survey discovered that recent stress levels in the U.S. population are increasing to 6.0 on a 10-point scale for the Z-generation, with 10 being the highest stress level.
The most common stress sources are money (87%), work-related (81%), global uncertainty (81%), Russia’s invasion of Ukraine (80%)
In the coming blogs, I will go deeper into the basics behind stress's impact on our body-mind system.
Today part 1: Redefining stress
Everybody knows stress, but do they really? It comes in many shapes and sizes, acute and chronic – social stress, physical stress, mental stress, to name a few. All these types have the same impact on your body-mind system. Most people use the word indiscriminately for both cause of effect:
- “There is a lot of stress at work right now.” or
- “I’m so stressed, I can’t think straight.”
Scientists don’t distinguish between the psychological state of stress and the physiological stress response.
Stress is such a malleable term partly because the feeling spans a wide emotional range, from a mild state of alertness to a sense of being completely overwhelmed by the push and pull of life.
At the far end of the spectrum is what you know as being stressed out. Stay there too long, and we’re talking about chronic stress, which translates emotional strain into physical strain. This is where the ripple effects of the body-mind’s stress response can lead to a full-blown mental disorder such as anxiety and depression and high blood pressure, heart problems, and cancer.
Chronic stress can even tear at the architecture of the brain.
But how to make sense of such a woolly concept as stress? By keeping in mind its biological definition.
Above all, stress is a threat perceived by the survival brain. It’s a challenge to react, a call to adapt. In the brain, anything that causes cellular activity is a form of stress. For a neuron to fire, it requires energy, and the process of burning fuel creates wear and tear on the cell. The feeling of stress is essentially an emotional echo of your brain cells' underlying stress.
You probably wouldn’t think of getting out of a chair as stressful – it doesn’t feel stressful, but it most definitely is biologically speaking. It doesn’t compare with, say, losing a job, but here’s the thing: Both events are parts of the same pathways in the body-mind system. Standing up triggers neurons needed to coordinate the movement, and dreading unemployment generates plenty of activity since emotions result from neurons signalling one another.
Likewise, learning Portuguese, meeting other people, and moving muscles all demands on your brain; all are forms of stress. As far as your body-mind system is concerned, stress is stress – the difference is degree.
See more next blog.