The human body is programmed to respond to a perceived threat by releasing chemicals, including adrenalin, noradrenaline and cortisol. Fear sets off a chain reaction within the body, known as the 'fight or flight response', which, in cave man times, was an essential tool for survival.
This response produces physical changes within the body. Non-essential systems, such as food digestion, are switched off, possibly causing the feeling of butterflies in the stomach or nausea.
The body prepares itself for instant action, in order to fight or run away from the perceived threat. Fats and glucose are released in to the body and oxygen is needed to burn them. This results in the increased need to breath and the individual takes faster and more shallow breaths, often resulting in feeling breathless.
The fuel and oxygen need to be pumped around the body in the bloodstream as quickly as possible, to reach the muscles. The heart beats faster and blood pressure rises. Some people experience palpitations and may break into a sweat.
The muscles become tense as they become ready for action. The individual may become shaky and restless, experience racing thoughts and may act impulsively.
In the short term, this response can be productive in dealing with the pressures of modern day's society, giving us extra energy to meet deadlines and the ability to work longer. The parasympathetic nervous system helps the body to resume to normal levels of functioning if given a chance to rest.
However, if the perceived threat is constant, it can becomes intensely draining, resulting in negative stress, outside the realms of the individual's coping mechanisms. This chronic stress can affect both short and long term health, with possible symptoms, as follows;
High blood pressure
Muscle tension and pain
Stomach, bowel and bladder problems
Anxiety, including continual worrying, ruminating and racing thoughts
Depression, including low self esteem and feelings of hopelessness
Difficulty with memory and concentration
Becoming less sociable
Loss of temper or being unreasonable
Overactivity and difficulty relaxing
Changes in eating habits
Speech becoming more rapid
Complications of Stress
Stress can lead to symptoms of Clinical Depression if left untreated and, sometimes, can result in suicidal thoughts. It also leads to increased levels of sickness in the workplace, especially if the working environment is the cause of the stress.
If left untreated, high blood pressure can cause cardiovascular disease and could lead to an individual suffering with a stroke, heart attack or aneurysm.
In an ideal world, it would be best to reduce or eliminate the root cause of the stress but this is not always possible. It is possible to learn ways to help cope with stress, by use of physical relaxation strategies, such as breathing techniques and also, by learning cognitive strategies, to help change the way we think, to help change the way we feel.
In addition, individuals have their own preferences as to the activities they participate in to help cope with the pressures of day to day life. Rather than resort to unhealthy ways of coping, such as eating, drinking or smoking too much, it is far more beneficial to consider healthier alternatives, such as taking a good diet, exercising and relaxation. Reflexology and Indian Head Massage could be included as a way of taking control of your body, your health and your life as steps towards achieving optimum health and well-being.