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Stress Management

How Does Stress Affect The Mind and Body?

  When Stress Becomes A Problem?

Stress in not “all in your head”. Many physiological reactions are felt when one is under stress. Dr. Hans Selye, who coined the term ‘stress’, reports that stress is our reaction to our environment. The mind may interpret a daily activity as a perceived threat, mild or major. The stress could simply be the phone ringing, traffic, being late, a test at school, an argument, or even a wedding. Major threats to the mind/body could be an illness, financial difficulties, a relationship break up, etc. While one person may perceive the threat as manageable, another may not have developed the coping skills to manage their stress reaction. A stressor may also trigger an unresolved conflict, conscious or unconscious, that may cause a surprising over reaction to a milder stressor or to a similar type of conflict.

How Does Stress Affect The Mind and Body?
The area of the brain called the hypothalamus perceives the situation as a threat and immediately responds by sending signals to every part of the body to prepare the body for fight or flight. Our mouth gets dry, blood rushes to the major muscles to nourish them( so hands and feet get cold), adrenaline is released by the adrenal gland (energy, anger), the pancreas secretes insulin for extra blood sugar (energy), the body begins to sweat to cool itself, the blood begins to clot in the event of a wound or cut, our heart rate increases as our breathing rate quickens, our blood pressure goes up as blood capillaries constrict and we can all relate to the fact that our muscle tension increases as we are prepared to fight or flight to the demands of the situation. We may feel annoyed, angry or frightened as we become more aware of our surroundings. We begin to scan our environment and feel like we need to be “on alert”, vigilant and ready for what ever comes our way.

When Stress Becomes A Problem?
The body may prepare us to “fight or flight” but in our society, neither is a socially acceptable option. We must stay and deal with the situation, like it or not. As we forge our way through the situation and it starts to resolve, our brain’s hypothalamus perceives the threat as less dangerous and sends signals to the body that it’s time to calm down. Usually, the body responds to the signal from the brain. But for those who have been in a prolonged state of stress for a period of time, we may have begun to ignore or just not “hear” the message from the brain. These individuals begin to be in a chronic state of stress and must “relearn” what a calm physiological and mental state feels like. Biofeedback is an extremely useful and successful tool in teaching one how to achieve this goal.

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