Stress is vital to life. We all need a level of stress in order to function. However, the levels of stress we experience and how we react to them, must be within healthy limits for us or the stress will overwhelm us physically and mentally.
In 1975, Hans Selye, the Father of stress research, described positive stressors (eustress) as those that enhance function and negative stressors (distress) as those that cannot be resolved through coping or adaptation and lead to a breakdown of function.
Our response to a stressor of either type is entirely personal and dynamically changes depending upon a myriad of factors. These factors include; how physically and mentally “strong” we may be at any given time, our learned response to a stressor (which may be from our experience or taught to us by our family and/or society) and the intensity and duration of the action of the stressor.
Stress affects every aspect of us including our physiology, anatomy, biochemistry and psycho-emotional state and is deeply rooted in our evolution activating primitive responses that would have enhanced our survival.
Imagine an early human hunted by a sabre-tooth tiger. The human sprains his ankle trying to escape but must ignore the pain and injury in order to make it to safety. This is perhaps the ultimate in stress and the multiple mechanisms of the “fright, fight or flight” response activate to ensure the injury does not get in the way of survival. This response causes the production of hormones and adrenaline, initiates an inflammatory response in the injured ankle, increases breathing and pulse rates and shifts blood to the leg and arm muscles.
Modern humans have the same response but our sabre-tooth tigers are deadlines, finances, screaming children and traffic jams. Our society has learned to internalise our stress response and this leads to many health problems from anxiety and depression to musculo-skeletal discomfort.
In subsequent articles we will discuss different aspects of stress and look at ways of dealing with it. However, for now when experiencing distress, deep diaphragmatic breathing is the first thing to remember.
Oh, and look out for sabre-tooth tigers!
David and Jeannie Baskeyfield
Osteopathic Natural Health