What is Stress, What it Does, How it Kills
After the last post, I find it fitting to talk some about stress.
What is Stress?
Taking the fifth meaning from dictionary.com, stress is the physical pressure, pull, or other force exerted on one thing by another, meaning for us, environmental stress. This is comparable to how our ancestors have to worry about having shelter, finding food, and not getting eaten.
For the heck of it, let me first make a point using a bit of video game lingo.
Video Game Hero Burst Mode
Imagine our hero in a video game who has a burst mode. This burst mode makes him a few times more powerful than usual and not get stunnedâ€¦ however, his hitpoints gradually decreases in this mode. So, the idea is to use the burst mode only when he fights very strong enemy and otherwise absolutely necessary to not die. Definitely not always, because heâ€™d die.
Human Burst Mode, aka Fight or Flight
Well, we have somewhat of such a mode… it’s been identified in science as “fight or flight”.
As the words suggest, when we are in “fight or flight” mode, our body is ready to either fight or flee from danger. Intuitively then, when we are in such a mode, because the body concerns only of survival, the last thing it wants to do is digesting food properly, peeing and pooping, breathing deeply and slowly, generating energy for us in non-detrimental manner, and lastly (for some most importantly), carrying out sexual activity. LOL
(description of the science behind these is further down)
Stress in Modern Days
Back in the days when our ancestors live in the wild, such a mode is imperative for survival, to be able to hunt for food or run away from saber tooth. It’s really an intelligent design and gift of nature.
I surmise some activities above that our bodies is not inclined to do when in â€œfight or flightâ€ mode, which should inevitably makes us realize how stress is one factor that lead to many other issues that modern people face.
We, or rather most of us with a few exceptions, constantly render our bodies in this “fight or flight” mode.
With saber tooth out of the picture, the “danger” we are threatened with are things that we think we must do and that which put us under stress — paying bills, feeding the family, keeping everyone happy, making deadline at work, getting the next promotion, becoming famous and successful, attaining power, retirement, eating things that hopefully won’t kill us before retirement, saving the world and blah blah blah.
Additionally, we are currently living in a society that is driven by fear. If you disagree, I politely ask you to check the news.
Our Beautiful Mind is also a Curse
Beyond the environmental stress, there is one more factor that hits it home to have stress cause us so much grief. Our mind.
For because we are humans and we are capable of thinking. This is another gift of nature that can also become a curse by misuse. We think about past and future. We think to create the perception of what is.
Things that we think we need to make us normal.
Things that we think will lead us to a “bad” future.
Things that we think as truth by expectations and conditioning.
We abuse the mind and apply thinking everywhere. Then ultimately, our attachment to these thoughts as real causes stress to multiply by ten-folds. Buddha is not lying when he said, â€œAttachment leads to suffering.â€ Well, it certainly does in how it leads to stress in our life!
And let us not forget, when we seek drama, indulgence, and excitement, it is more or less the same because positive stress is stress to the body too. And there is science behind it that our bodies react similar to positive and negative stress.
Anyways, when it’s all said and done, we are constantly putting our bodies in this â€œfight or flightâ€ mode. When we are not stressing out on negative things, we are seeking positive stress. In other words, stress kills is really another way of saying, we are killing ourselves, albeit slowly.
The Chemistry and the Science
I am no scientist but this is a summary of the many things I self-studied on this topic that hopefully can be easily understood.
Mainly, there are two hormones generated when we are in â€œfight or flightâ€ modes — adrenaline and cortisol — both produced by the adrenal gland. Both of them are geared toward getting our body ready and have enough quick energy to fight or run away. I will only focus just these 2 and effects due to having them for prolonged period of time.
Real name is Epinephrine. Adrenaline is a hormone that boosts the supply of oxygen and glucose (think of them like gas to cars) to the brain and skeletal muscles. That means if you have a lot of it in your bloodstream constantly, these are the effects:
– Not have adequate supply of oxygen and glucose to other organs in your body, which includes organs in the digestive system, parts of your nervous system (thatâ€™s why probably you are less sensitive), sexual organs (sorry, no sex when adrenalized)
– Because the oxygen and glucose supplied to the brain and muscles in mass quantity, they will be very stimulated, which will likely cause insomnia and muscle restlessness.
– Behaviorally, our ancestors work off the adrenaline in body by fighting or running awayâ€¦ but we modern people involve no such kind of physical exertion for that purpose. So either we leave the adrenaline in the body doing all the stuff above, or we find ourselves overeating, crazy shopping, etc.
Cortisol is what we call the â€œstress hormoneâ€. Cortisol does many things. A few key effects are:
– Increase in Blood Sugar (hyperglycemia) — Cortisol being a counter to insulin and probably also because it increases glycogen synthesis by liver (as source of energy for muscles).
– Weaker bones — probably because cortisol induces loss of collagen (monitored in rats), which are present in the skin, bone, cartilage, tendon, and teeth.
– Long-term exposure to cortisol results in damage to cells in the hippocampus, aka, your long term memory.
– Interfere with thyroid function and affect the T-cells and thus interfere with our immune system, which is why we are easier to get sick when stressed out.
– Decrease in muscle tissue because they cause our bodies to burn carbs and lean muscle (protein) in order to obtain quick energy to fight or run. Because burning fat to get calories is slower. Hence, not a good idea to exercise and weight train as a stressed person.
There you have it. A quick run through about stress. Not short, but it could have been longer!
Of course, I’m no “expert” and these are my intuition and understanding from self-study. So, do your own study. If you are really interested, besides searching for stress/adrenaline/cortisol you should also look into “parasympathetic” and “sympathetic” systems.
My thanks to these resources:
Originally posted 2009-10-29 00:03:06. Republished by Blog Post Promoter