WHAT IS STRESS?

STRESS ...The Problem & The Solution


WHAT IS STRESS?

Stress is any strain or force on the body or mind; a power that deforms the shape of the body subjected to it. It is a dis-harmony or instability of a once-balanced state. Dr. Hans Selye, the most renowned authority and researcher on stress, defines it simply as the rate of wear and tear on the body.


Each time we are stressed, specific bodily responses occur. An impulse is relayed to the brain, which sends out signals to the glands and organs to secret hormones into the bloodstream. Immediately, muscles tense, breath rate increases, heartbeat quickens, blood pressure rises and blood is shunted from the skin and organs to the muscles, the brain and the digestive system is disrupted. We are prepared to respond to the stressor. This preparation for danger is the fight or flight response, a term coined by Harvard physiologist, Walter Cannon, in the 1930's.


The fight or flight response is an instinctual response, a survival mechanism which enabled us to survive as a species. However, today it is often an inappropriate response as our bodies tend to react as if our lives are being threatened when they are not. Today, threats are mostly emotional rather than physical, yet we habitually respond via the fight or flight response as if we are in constant danger. Deadlines, unrealistic self-explanations, job and home pressure, traffic, unpaid bills and the rapid, subtle stresses of modern times creates prolonged stress. This type of stress causes both psychological and physical health problems.


The Problem


Prolonged stress interferes with the body's natural ability to return to homeostasis (a balanced state). Our bodies have a mechanism for reacting to stress, but then needs to return to the balanced state for optimum health. Normally, after a stressful event, the body automatically returns to homeostasis.


Today almost everyone's anxiety level is elevated because of these stressful times which affect most aspects of our daily life. Many of us are worried about what's going to happen. As many as 80 percent of Americans are stressed about their personal finances and the economy, according to the annual survey conducted by the American Psychological Association. All we have to do is read the newspaper, turn on the radio, or talk to friends. To add insult to injury we have road rage, desk rage , gone postal, and a new term called techno-stress which is the incessant intensification and infusion of new information. One hundred years ago there were no jet planes, hardly any automobiles, certainly no cell phones, Blackberry’s, computers, internet, or fax machines. More than 80% of the world's technological inventions have occurred since 1900.There was more information produced in the 30 years from 1965-1995 than was produced in the entire 5,000-year period from 300BC to 1965. We have experienced more change in the past 20 years than the world encountered in the previous 2,000 years. Never before in our history has our life's changed so rapidly.


“It’s difficult to think of any disease in which stress cannot play an aggravating or causative role,” Paul Rosch MD, President of the American Institute of Stress, the World Health Organization described stress as a world wide epidemic and a United Nations report called job stress, "The disease of the century. The cost of uncontrolled stress to American business exceeds over 300 billion dollars each year. Stress can be very subtle and builds up like the steam in a pressure cooker. It’s extremely important to be aware of ones stress and continually release it, letting out some of the steam. I won’t tell you about the many physical and emotional problems prolonged stress can cause. It would take hours. Suffice to know that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Louis Pasteur stated that disease was not caused by bacteria alone but the condition of the Ahost’s body. According to the American Academy of Family Practice two thirds of the people who visit family doctors suffer from stress related illness.


Working conditions such as excessive workload, increasing demands and conflicting expectations play a primary role in causing job stress, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).Over-stressed employees affect your company's bottom line. Stressful working conditions are associated with increased tardiness, absenteeism, illness, injury, and disability. Healthcare expenditures are nearly 50 percent greater for workers who report high levels of stress. According to Northwestern National Life, a fourth of all U.S. employees view their jobs as the number one stressor in their lives. Princeton Survey Research Associates report that three-fourths of employees believe worker’s have more on-the-job stress than a generation ago. Other research has found that 34 percent of American worker’s loose sleep, 11 percent drink heavily and 16 percent smoke excessively.


A survey of 1,305 U.S. workers shows that one in ten workers say employees have come to blows because of stress at work. Forty two percent (42%) say there's yelling and verbal abuse in their offices. One in five had quit a job because of stress. The Bureau of Justice Statistics documented 1.5 million instances of simple assault and 396,000 cases of aggravated assault per year at the workplace. The National Safety Council estimates that 1 million employees are absent on an average workday because of stress-related problems.


Brain research is beginning to produce concrete evidence for something that Buddhist practitioners of meditation have maintained for centuries: Mental discipline and meditative practice can change the workings of the brain and allow people to achieve different levels of awareness. Scientists have identified a direct link between stress and aging. In a pioneering study, researchers have shown that chronic stress speeds up the shriveling of the tips of the bundles of genes inside the cells. This not only shortens the life span of the cells, but also deteriorates them. Symptoms from this stress related accelerated aging emerges in the form of skin wrinkles, weakened muscles, diminishing hearing, eyesight, cognitive processes and even organ failure.

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Jeff Gero, Ph.D

818-640-2047

jeffgero@sbcglobal.net

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