In the past twenty years or so that, like many words in our language, the real meaning of the word stress has been diluted by overuse. We hear someone say, “I’m stressed out!” and we don’t know if the person is facing a wardrobe choice, a career change, marital problems, or travel plans for a long-awaited vacation. The term Stress has simply come to mean so much that it actually means very little in real terms.
In the past twenty years or so that, like many words in our language, the real meaning of the word stress has been diluted by overuse. We hear someone say, “I’m stressed out!” and we don’t know if the person is facing a wardrobe choice, a career change, marital problems, or travel plans for a long-awaited vacation. The term Stress has simply come to mean so much that it actually means very little in real terms.Unfortunately, herein lies part of the problem. If we accept the dictionary definition, then stress is both a cause (the demand) and an effect (distress). The cause can be viewed as a good thing—a challenge, or a push to do better—while the effect is not so good—a distress that may be felt as a momentary nervousness or free-floating anxiety or stark, paralyzing fear. You will soon see a new and comprehensive way to view this interesting phenomenon of stress.
The Nature of the Stressor Has ChangedDoes stress serve any purpose? For our prehistoric ancestors, the answer was Yes! Stress was the body’s ability to sense physical danger and prepare for fight or flight that allowed humans to survive to the present day.But the response to present-day stress is often the same as if being chased by a saber- toothed tiger. The physiology that evolved required first the ability to sense the signal that there was a “something out there” that posed a potential threat to life—maybe the sound of a broken twig or the rustling of leaves or the roar of a wild animal. The message was simple—act quickly or be injured and possibly die.
Organ Responses to a StressorThe response that ensured human’s survival was rapid, systemic, and extreme. STEP I: On the Meaning and Significance of Stress 1. The heart rate increased to give the body a boost in the supply of energy and oxygen to the heart, lungs, and muscles. 2. Blood pressure increased as the circulation was redirected from the skin and other non-fighting organs to the heart, lungs, and muscles. 3. Blood coagulability increased to protect against bleeding to death from possible wounds. 4. Protection against shock in the event of excessive bleeding left the skin feeling cold and clammy. Shivering, tightening of the skin, and “goose ?esh” helped to conserve body heat in the event of blood loss. 5. The body began to sweat to release the heat generated by the work the body was performing to prepare for and engage in fight or flight. 6. The rate of breathing increased to raise the supply of oxygen to the muscles and help metabolize more glucose for increased energy needs. 7. There would be a sudden urge to empty the bowels and/or bladder to increase the body’s physical efficiency and reduce critical mass. 8. The eyes opened widely and the pupils became dilated to increase peripheral vision to detect possible escape routes and other possible attackers. 9. The body’s neuromusculoskeletal system assumed a tense position for sudden exertion or to brace against an assault. A heightened startle re?ex represented the body’s increased vigilance and immediate reactive time. 10. The body would achieve an energy high by the secretion of adrenalin and noradrenalin, while the liver metabolized stored glycogen reserves to be converted to simple sugars for ready energy. Additional hormonal support was supplied by the pituitary gland, which secreted ACTH (adreno-corticotropic hormone).
Over time this could result in a suppression of the immune response, but that was not as immediately important in the hierarchy of emergencies.