Finally, western medicine has caught up with alternative medicine and recognised the link between stress and disease.
Headaches, migraines, digestive problems, tight muscles and more seriously heart disease and hyper tension are just some of the ways our bodies react to unbearable pressure.
But what is stress? There are many definitions some of which very technical but I would say that stress is triggered every time we are faced with a physical or emotional situation we do not feel equipped to deal with. Stress is not an objective measurement of a challenge but represents a very individual perception for each of us: I may find public speaking very hard and anxiety provoking, while a friend may thrive and enjoy every opportunity they get to speak in front of a group.
Stress is a complex combination of physical and biochemical responses to strong emotional stimuli. First, we have an event, physical or emotional, which our brain interprets as a threat. We call this a stressor. Second, the brain interprets this event and finally, comes our stress response which can be expressed as behavioural or physiological reactions.
A typical physiological response to a stressor involves the release of stress hormones which include adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones help us to kick start the “fight or flight” response, which is designed to help us survive immediate danger. In the modern western world, unfortunately, the fight or flight response is increasingly triggered inappropriately by a perceived threat which means we may find ourselves stressed over long periods of time. The biggest stressors for modern men tend to be of an emotional nature and it is even possible to be stressed without being aware of it.
Research has identified three areas which consistently lead to stress: uncertainty, lack of information and loss of control. Ongoing emotional stress is very likely to lead to chronic stress and this is where problems to our health lie.
A clear example of a physical manifestation of chronic stress is the effects of long term amounts of cortisol on the body: research shows that cortisol has an inhibiting effect on the immune system as well as ulcerating effect on the intestines (this is why people who are prescribed cortisol-type drugs are also required to take medication to protect the lining of the stomach!)
Modern life puts a lot of pressures on most of us: for example, financial, relationship-based, goal oriented. Emotional stress is also triggered whenever the gap between our expectations and our reality vary greatly and can lead to many stress-related emotional conditions (anxiety, depression, low self esteem to name a few).
Our ability to regulate our emotions plays a significant role in the impact stress can have on our quality of life. In order to do this, we need to be able to develop “emotional competence” which involves feeling our emotions rather than suppressing them as well as the ability to express them at the right time and appropriately.
If stress is affecting your life and you want to look at ways to to address it, contact me for your free telephone consultation. It could be the first step towards emotional competence.