Stress Is Here to Stay...

JoAnna Brandi ...Why You Must Learn to Live with It

What comes to mind when you think about or say the word stress? Do you think of all the things on your 'To Do' list? Your daily challenges? Tough relationships? And what adjectives would you use to describe the word stress? Would you use negative words or positive? Words like tension and anxiety, or words like gift, thrust and fuel?

If you're like most people, you have a large, negative connotation attached to this very small word. That's why we're utterly delighted to let you know that there is both 'good' and 'bad' stress. No kidding! We're going to learn about good stress in a few moments. But first we're going to look at the physiological origins of stress, which are rooted in the body's natural response to the perception of danger, and how this primal function can go awry in today's modern world.

Way back in the time of our ancestors, say the cave people, the wiring of our brains and bodies included what we call 'the stress response' for survival. It was a useful life-saving function that is still handy today in cases of real danger. For example, who hasn't heard stories about a mom literally lifting a car off the ground to release her child who was pinned beneath it? Or how about people who survive accidents or natural disasters due to a sudden onset of strength and/or speed? Ever wonder how on earth they did it?

Here's how it happens: When you perceive danger, your brain sends a signal that floods your body with stimulants like adrenaline and cortisol compounds. The blood is rushed to your large skeletal muscles around your arms and legs (in case you have to put up a fight or run away). Meanwhile, with all your energy redirected for and focused on 'fight or flight," other normal functions such as digestion, assimilation of nutrients, the fighting of infections and other internal processes temporarily shut down. That's a good thing if you're being chased or attacked.

In fact, this automatic response to danger -- whether real or perceived -- was mighty helpful when our lives were threatened by very real danger like wild beasts each and every day. It was an essential tool for the survival of our species; those with a very weak response became dinner for the beasts, those with the strongest fight or flight response ate the beast for dinner. And so we evolved.

Fast-forward thousands of years: The daily need to fight for our lives, in a physical sense, has diminished quite a bit. But our bodies, so well programmed for survival in the wild, now react to almost any perceived negative occurrence - yes, even an upset customer or missing the budget deadline - by producing the same fight or flight response complete with physiological and chemical changes. This can be damaging to the body, the mind and the emotions. So while this Stimulus-Response action is very helpful at times, it is very hurt-full at others.

That's why Hans Selye, the Austrian endocrinologist who in 1926 studied "the nonspecific response of the body to any demand" and labeled it 'stress,' would later refer to stress as the "rate of wear and tear on the body." And that makes complete sense, because as you perceive a stressor (whether real or imagined) and react physiologically with the flight or fight syndrome, your immune system is compromised. Your body starts pumping out adrenaline (which, by the way, is an addictive drug). If you don't burn that adrenaline off by exerting yourself physically it becomes destructive. Adrenaline is useful (ask any runner, speaker or actor), but in massive or too frequently repeated doses it becomes toxic and affects normal bodily functions inappropriately. This, quite simply, wears out your organs. As your organs are worn out faster than they should be, your body ages faster.

Think about it: Stress literally ages you. OUCH! And anger, one of the emotions frequently linked to stress, lowers the immune system for a whole eight hours after your anger has passed. No wonder many of us have a tendency to catch colds and other infectious disease after we've been 'stressed out' for an extended period of time!

To complicate matters, when the stress response is triggered the mind begins to look for additional danger (like more beasts). It looks for things that are 'wrong' (Red alert: Remember, what you focus on grows...) and filters out what's going well. Why? Our lives used to depend on us finding the beasts before they found us. Get the picture? If you are a police officer, fire fighter or game show contestant and require a quick reaction time, this is still a pretty handy reflex. But it's safe to say the rest of us need it far less frequently.

It's been estimated that up to 90% of all illness in the U.S. is somehow related either directly or indirectly with stress. In the short term, mishandled stress has been known to raise the blood pressure, heart rate and blood sugar while decreasing digestion processes. In the long-term, it can worsen the short-term effects so that they become chronic problems such as high blood pressure, coronary heart disease and diabetes.

Stress has also been linked with water retention, a reduced inflammation response, exhaustion and medical problems such as headaches, depression, fatigue/reduced attention/diminished memory, stomach problems, rashes, mental health problems, back pain, violence/child abuse/suicide, burnout (a blend of depression, anxiety, dissatisfaction, lack of motivation and negative perceptions) and more. Double and triple OUCH!

None of us want any such health challenges, nor do we want to age before our time, right? So let's begin to look at and manage our stress differently starting right now!

JoAnna Brandi's Customer Care Coach™ is a weekly email based training program designed to teach managers in small and midsize businesses how to be more conscious, competent and caring in their critical business relationships. It's continuous learning for continuous improvement in your customer loyalty.

Category: Work-Life, Balance
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