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How Does Stress Affect Health?

stressStress is one of the most often used words today.  But just what is stress, and exactly how does it affect us?  Let us begin with the definition of stress.

Stress is a response of the body to stimuli.  Noise, heat or cold are not stresses.  They are stimuli.  The response they cause in the body is called stress.  This means that if your neighbor is playing his stereo at full volume, but you have an excellent set of earplugs, there is no stress!  There is stress only if you respond.  The impact of any event or stimulus depends on how you respond (or don't respond) to it.

 

On a more general level, stress is the underlying response of an organism to its environment.  This is a most important concept to understand, and it is the basis for the hair analysis patterns that are revealed on the hair mineral tests.  The minerals on the test have value in themselves.

 

INTERNAL AND EXTERNAL STRESSORS

 

External stress responses. Our bodies are continuously having to respond to the world around us.  This includes the ground we walk upon, the outer temperature, wind, rain, snow, sounds, sights, people, and hundreds of subtle factors such as smells, tension in the world, one’s financial and social situations and more.

 

Internal stress. The body also must respond to changes in the internal environment of the body, such as too much warmth or cold, hunger, thirst, diseases in the body, strain and tension on muscles, tendons, ligaments and joints, the body’s position in space and how gravity is affecting the body, and thousands of other parameters or factors.  The body must continuously adjust the blood sugar level, the blood pressure level and the levels of all the minerals, vitamins, hormones, and hundreds of other nutrients and chemicals that we are made of.  This is the continuously changing response to internal stress that keeps us alive.  An important principle is that usually it is far easier to work with and control internal stress than it is to control external forces.

 

Types of Stress

 

Stress can be defined as any type of change that causes physical, emotional or psychological strain. However, not all types of stress are harmful or even negative. There are a few different types of stress that we encounter:

 

Eustress, a type of stress that is fun and exciting, and keeps us vital (e.g. skiing down a slope or racing to meet a deadline)


Acute Stress, a very short-term type of stress that can either be positive (eustress) or more distressing (what we normally think of when we think of ‘stress'); this is the type of stress we most often encounter in day-to-day life (e.g. skiing down said slope or dealing with road rage)


Episodic Acute Stress, where acute stress seems to run rampant and be a way of life, creating a life of relative chaos (e.g. the type of stress that coined the terms ‘drama queen’ and ‘absent-minded professor’)


Chronic Stress, the type of stress that seems never-ending and inescapable, like the stress of a bad marriage or an extremely taxing job (this type of stress can lead to burnout)

 

The Fight or Flight Response

 

Stress can trigger the body’s response to perceived threat or danger, the Fight-or-Flight response. During this reaction, certain hormones like adrenalin and cortisol are released, speeding the heart rate, slowing digestion, shunting blood flow to major muscle groups, and changing various other autonomic nervous functions, giving the body a burst of energy and strength. Originally named for its ability to enable us to physically fight or run away when faced with danger, it’s now activated in situations where neither response is appropriate, like in traffic or during a stressful day at work. When the perceived threat is gone, systems are designed to return to normal function via the relaxation response, but in our times of chronic stress, this often doesn’t happen enough, causing damage to the body.

Stress and Health: Implications of Chronic Stress

When faced with chronic stress and an overactivated autonomic nervous system, people begin to see physical symptoms. The first symptoms are relatively mild, like chronic headaches and increased susceptibility to colds. With more exposure to chronic stress, however, more serious health problems may develop. These stress-influenced conditions include, but are not limited to:

depression
diabetes
hair loss
heart disease
hyperthyroidism
obesity
obsessive-compulsive or anxiety disorder
sexual dysfunction
tooth and gum disease
ulcers
cancer (possibly)

 

In fact, most it’s been estimated that as many as 90% of doctor’s visits are for symptoms that are at least partially stress-related!