In our last posting we talked about how each personality “type” typically responds to it stress, and inadvertently stresses and triggers others. In following up as to how stress can impact our professional and personal relationships; this posting, will look at:
- What stress actually is.
- Sources of stress.
- How stress impacts health
As Americans we are five percent of the world’s population but we consume 65 percent of the world’s psychotropic drugs, tranquilizers and mood enhancers*. None of these will “cure” stress or anxiety and each has potentially toxic side effects as well as addictive potential. We seem to be a population under a tremendous amount of stress and collective malaise.
Our bodies respond to stressful situations by releasing hormones, such as adrenalin and cortisol, which immediately increase our heart rate and energy level. In the short-term, these stress hormones help us adapt and survive an unexpected threat. Like a dog snarling at us or a car suddenly swerving in our lane. Our arms and legs get a burst of energy, our hearts beat faster, blood pressure increases and everything that’s not essential for survival gets turned off, such as digestion, growth, healing and reproduction,” Temporarily we think more clearly, and certain aspects of learning and memory are enhanced. All of this helps us respond if… it is an immediate and short-term physical stress-or —a real one.” **
The problem is; non-life-threatening stressors, like worrying about money, the economy, your job or trying to please your boss, also trigger the release of adrenalin and other stress hormones, which, over time, have devastating and life threatening consequences to your health. Negative emotions like anger adversely impact health as well. In his ground breaking book, Anger Kills, psychologist Redford Williams found that hostile, angry and driven individuals (The type A profile) are more likely to get heart attacks; often fatal. These individuals (as we have seen in our last posting) typically trigger stress in others. Bad bosses (Unaware, driven, dominant and hostile) have been shown to be a significant risk factor in triggering heart attacks and other stress related disorders in the work place.
Our brains can not tell the difference between a real threat or an imagined threat. Imagining or perceiving a threat also triggers our fight or flight response. In this case, FEAR becomes an acronym for False Evidence Appearing Real. Robert Sapolsksy, a leading neuro- scientist and foremost authority on stress states: “If you turn on the stress response chronically for purely psychological reasons, you increase your risk of adult onset diabetes and high blood pressure. If you’re chronically shutting down the digestive system, there’s a bunch of gastrointestinal disorders you’re more at risk for as well.” Studies show that long-term stress suppresses the immune system, making you more susceptible to infectious diseases, can shut down reproduction by causing erectile dysfunction and disrupting menstrual cycles. If you are chronically stressed, all sorts of aspects of brain function are impaired such as creativity and problem solving. Research also shows “stress to be a smoking gun in early onset of Alzheimer’s and senile dementia”. (Singh- Kalsa) Neurons in the parts of the brain relating to learning, memory and judgment don’t function well under chronic stress and have been shown to die off.
The bottom line is: For whatever reason, if you are chronically stressed, like so many of us in these uncertain times, you are more at risk for heart disease and many of the other leading causes of death in our Westernized life.” (Sapolsky) My next posting will highlight practical ways to effectively manage stress, cultivate calmness, and cope more effectively with the complexities of life. Stay tuned!
In the meantime, breath deeply; (at least three times) this helps by oxygenating the brain, “flushing” out stress hormones and allows you to better respond versus reacting. Reacting tends to keeps us stuck in the situation we are resisting. Remember; “we don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are”. (Anais Nin)
Resources and References
*Richard Wolf, PhD; Sun Magazine Feb. 2012 “Capitalism and its Discontents -What Went Wrong”
** Robert SapolskyPH.D ; Stress the Portrait of a Killer, National Geographic, DVD
Anger Kills: Seventeen Strategies for Controlling the Hostility That Can Harm Your Health; Redford Williams MD, Virginia Williams, PH.D
Brain Longevity: The Breakthrough Medical Program That Improves Your Mind and Memory , Dharma Singh Kalsa, MD & Cameron Stauth