Monday, 13 March 2017

Why are we affected by stress?

Most of the stresses faced by our primitive ancestors were short sharp shocks: the sort of danger that threatens if a predator attacks. To survive, our ancestors either had to be able to run faster than the predators, or fight better.
 Over time, they evolved what we now refer to as ‘fight or flight syndrome’ (or ‘the stress response’) to help them do this. This reaction is still a part of us; it means that in times of danger, our bodies automatically get ready for action.

What happens when we’re stressed?

When we get a shock, or feel threatened, our bodies release hormones (e.g. adrenalin). These cause physical changes like:
  • Heart rate
  • Blood pressure
  • Breathing rate
  • Digestion of sugars
  • Blood supply to muscles in the arms and legs
  • Blood clotting ability 
  • Digestion (except sugars)
  • Blood supply to the skin
  • Blood supply to the language parts of the brain
  • Immune system (protection from disease)
You can feel some of these effects for yourself if you watch a scary film, or someone shouts BOO and makes you jump.

The overall effect is to increase, divert and transport energy and oxygen to those parts of the body we use when we fight and/or run. This strengthens and speeds up our reactions, giving us a greater chance of surviving the danger.

In the short term, that makes perfect sense. And if nothing else alarming happens, our bodies return to normal within a few minutes.

Why is stress a problem?

Few stressful situations nowadays need a physical response. In fact, running away or fighting will often make things worse.
Unfortunately our hormones can’t tell the difference between a hungry tiger and an angry boss. So, under stress, our bodies get ready for action, just when we need to sit still, think clearly and feel calm.
And the physical changes that were intended by nature to last for just a few moments can be prolonged for days, weeks, months or even years if the stress keeps on coming.



The symptoms of long term stress

If you were to rev the engine of your car for a moment, with the gears in neutral, it might be noisy but it would do no real damage. Revving it for hours would burn out your engine. That’s more or less what happens to your body when you are under long term stress.

Here are just a few symptoms that can be stress related:
  • frequent coughs, colds, and other illnesses
  • digestive problems; diarrhoea, constipation, ulcers
  • heart disease
  • tiredness, and/or being unable to sleep
  • changes in appetite, sudden weight gain or loss
  • difficulties concentrating or thinking clearly
  • lack of motivation, difficulties planning ahead
  • feelings of depression, anxiety or panic
  • increased irritability, anger or aggression
You can see how closely these relate to the physical changes listed above. For example, if your immune system isn’t working well, it’s logical that you might catch more infections.

If you ignore these symptoms for too long, you are likely to become emotionally, psychologically and physically exhausted, and to be unable to function without medical help.
There are plenty of ideas about what you can do to combat these symptoms on this site, or feel free to contact me for advice.


Author: is a professional stress management coach, specialising in working with individuals and smaller employers to minimise stress and maximise feeling in control.
Debbie is the author of Their Worlds, Your Words and has co-written the Hypnotherapy Handbook both of which are available from Amazon.
Find out more about Debbie's services on  or phone 01977 678593

1 comment:

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