Keith Nathaniel PartingtonIntegrative Life Coach & Cognitive Behavioural Coach
Inverness & Great Glen Region

The emotional and physical dangers of stress . Beanie2

The emotional
and physical
of stress

It's probably impossible to remove stress entirely from our lives. However, as a psychologically trained professional, and as a coach concerned greatly with stress, I'm well aware of how living constantly under very high levels of stress severely threatens our emotional, psychological, sexual and physical quality of life and overall wellbeing.

Additionally, stress also adversely affects how long we live, because it creates intense damage to our cellular structure, increasing the chances of unwanted and dangerous cellular mutations (such as cancer) to develop.

What happens to us when we're
actually under stress?

When we feel stressed it's because our brain has perceived that we feel threatened by one or more aspects of our life. This could be due to pressure at work, sexuality or relationship problems, fears / anxieties, low self-esteem, insecurities, challenging family circumstances, psychological or physical health issues of oneself or others. We can certainly also add to these, personal trauma, income and other financial problems, employment worries, being competitive in life, voluntary or forced migration to another country or culture area, religious or racial / xenophobic intolerance, bullying, or an infinite number of other possible causes.

Because of this, the stress response (Sympathetic Nervous System) is activated, and this floods our bodies with extremely powerful chemicals such as cortisol, adrenaline and endorphins. Nature designed this "Fight -- Freeze -- or Flight" system to help us cope with, and survive, short-term desperate emergencies in our lives. Having all of these response chemicals flooding through our physical structure actually impedes other processes -- such as the digestive, immune and mind-body calming processes -- that are designed to help us function and live healthily over the longer term. Because of this, living in this stress response state for weeks, months, or even decades at a time is not something that our health can cope with. Unfortunately, in Western culture, living almost continuously in this highly stressed state has become the norm, and at various points in life, our minds and bodies will suffer very, very seriously indeed as a result of such stress being ignored.

What effects does this actually
have in our real everyday personal
and working lives?

In everyday terms, probably the most noticeable effects of stress -- noticed by ourselves, loved-ones, friends, and also by those we work with, or teach -- include irritability, aggression, anxiety, loss of sexual arousal and overall desire, forgetfulness and depression, among many others. More perceptive individuals may notice other effects, such as changes in breathing (taking short, quick breaths instead of steady, soft long breaths), becoming easily fatigued, being unable to fall asleep and / or waking up during the night -- possibly with feelings of anxiety.

Since emotions are often experienced (quite normally) as centred in the stomach area, and since stress switches down the digestive system, other effects such as diarrhoea and / or acid reflux indigestion, and even seriously unwanted weight gain (even obesity, over the longer term) may also predominate. We, or those around us, may also notice a decline in learning and retention of new information or essential skills. Thus, educational progress and workplace performance may decline to below-acceptable levels. Even worse, possibly, is the way in which being under stress makes us distant, abrupt, dismissive and emotionally dis-connected with others around us, whether they are loved-ones, clients, or work colleagues. Even panic attacks, and / or periods of very worrying, and often very frightening, psychological dissociation from one’s physical environment may be experienced, at varying levels of intensity.

Perhaps the most immediately impacting effect, though, is a decreased ability to make good decisions. Why? Well, the body's stress response chemically limits our ability to "see" all of the options that may be available to us in any life or work situation. This applies whether we are trying to help someone with their homework, ride a bike through traffic, fly a jet airliner, negotiate an international business contract, sit a university final exam, teach a class, or solve a deep personal or relationship issue. Under stress we, therefore, invariably make poor choices from the very limited range of options that we "see" at that stressful moment.

But what does the medical world think about stress?

A medical / neurological perspective on the
seriousness of stress

Stress is a killer, and a severe impairment to us living happy and healthy lives. The following statement by Rudolph E. Tanzi, Harvard Professor of Neurology, and Director of the Genetics and Aging Research Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital, USA, is a good summary of medical science's view of stress:

"...we know more than ever that stress, both physical and emotional, is central to the ailments we struggle with most. It leads to faster aging, obesity, anxiety and depression, autoimmune and digestive disorders, chronic pain, heart disease, cancer, and neurological disorders. Stress also produces chronic inflammation, which compromises many of our body’s critical systems, and plays a key role in Alzheimer’s disease. Maybe most important in all this: we know that we are each in the driver’s seat of our own lives, in control of our personal destiny. We know we can change our own health, and our entire life experience — on chemical, neurological, and genetic levels — through the choices we make each day. Our lives are our own to create."

It's obvious, then, that stress doesn't do us any favours, or help us at all as a long-term companion through our lives. For a diagrammatic representation of the effects of stress you may find this illustration interesting and informative, when looked at in conjunction with what I’ve presented above.

Stress is obviously far too dangerous for us to live with. Doesn't it make sense, then, to focus on lowering and minimising your stress levels, using yoga or tai chi, and where necessary, stress management coaching to achieve this?

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