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Why talk about stress? What do w...

Posted Oct 22 2008 4:50pm

Why talk about stress?

What do we mean by stress?

What can we do about it?

Stress is the body’s response to a real or perceived threat. 

Fight or flight response- developed initially to protect us from external threats – attacks by predators, physical assaults.  

A true lifesaver when a brief, external threat is encountered.

In today’s world it is pervasive and chronic. In addition to being uncomfortable, it impacts every aspect of our life.

Identified and named by Hans Selye, Physician and endocrinologist in the mid 1900’s.

As a medical student he observed that most sick people had similar symptoms, no matter what the underlying illness.

Later, as a researcher trying to identify a new hormone, all the mice he injected developed the same symptoms  (enlarged adrenal cortex, atrophy of thymus, spleen, lymph nodes, bleeding ulcers) regardless of what he injected.

Called this response GAS- General Adaptation Syndrome- body’s attempt to respond to the stress of illness, famine, danger.

He encouraged doctors to begin treating the whole person, not only the illness or organism causing the illness.  Most continued to follow Pasteur’s model and treat the causative organism.

What happens when we experience stress?

Skeletal muscles are stronger

Brain functions are very sharp and quick for the first few hours.

Heart rate and respiratory rate increase

Pupils Dilate

Constricts blood vessels to digestive tract and other organs

Suppression of the immune system

Blood clots more quickly

Production of growth hormone is diminished

Shuts down reproductive processes

What does stress look like in our life?

Feel rushed, always in a hurry

May impact our sleep

Out of sorts, relationships suffer

Feel uncomfortable emotions such as anger, sadness, frustration, guilt

Anxiety, fear, depression, frustration, anger, withdrawal, apathy,

May overeat, use alcohol or tobacco to cope.

Have more accidents

Make poor decisions


Fatigue, Insomnia

Indigestion, heartburn



Overly talkative or quiet

Loss of appetite or binge eating

Today’s stress:

Chronic and Pervasive.  We remain in a state of “readiness” for extended periods of time. 

Many responsibilities, busy schedules, WORK, families, etc.
Impacts all our body systems.

Anecdotal reports have always portrayed stress as unhealthy. 

College Students and colds at exam time

Couples struggling to become pregnant until they adopt, then pregnancy occurs.

Heart attacks related to anger

Now, many studies have documented the impact of stress on our health and healing.

Jan Kiecolt-Glaser, Ohio State University School of Medicine –

Study comparing the healing of an intentionally inflicted wound the size of a pencil eraser on two groups of elderly, similar except for the fact that one group was made up of caregivers for relatives with late stage Alzheimer’s.  Members of the control group healed in 9 days less that the “stressed” group.

From Psychological Stress and the Human Immune System: a Meta Analytical Study of 30 Years of Inquiry.  NIH Public Access.  Suzanne Segerstrom and Gregory Miller.

Stress was classified by duration.  Confirms the link between stress and very specific components of the immune system.  Ongoing investigations will show just how the information is shared by cells.

Suggestions for Managing Stress and Improving Your Life

First, be aware of the presence of Stress and what’s going on when it occurs.

Next look at your life in an objective way to determine:

What in my life is causing this?

What can I change?

Then, make a plan.

 Look at your schedule and priorities.  See what can be delegated or eliminated.

 Cheryl Richardson, Life Coach, Newburyport and Oprah Guest says “If it’s not an absolute ‘Yes’’, it’s a ‘No’”.


Our thoughts have measurable effects on our minds:

Wall Street Journal, November 5, 2004, Scan of Monks’ Brains Show Meditation Alters Structure and Function:

Neuroplasticity:  the brain’s recently discovered ability to change its structure and function, by expanding or strengthening circuits that are used and by shrinking or weakening those that are rarely used.  “Just as aerobics sculpts the muscles, mental training sculpts the gray matter in ways scientists are only beginning to fathom.”


Develop an attitude of compassion and FORGIVENESS

Live in the present moment – releasing anger or guilt from the past and worries about the future.



Nurture your support systems and friendships

Take time for your self.  Schedule some things that you love to do.

Surround yourself with beauty and music

Take frequent deep breaths

Get enough rest

Eat regular, healthful meals

Take care of your health

Practice positive thinking and an optimistic attitude

Avoid using “distracters” to satisfy emotions (smoking, drinking, etc.)

Plan leisure time


Please take time to write some comments about how your life is going.

Choose one or two interventions that could help.  Establish an attainable goal.  For instance, vow to meditate for 10 minutes each morning.

Re-evaluate how you life is going after one week.  Adjust as needed.

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