What Causes Stress?
It has been estimated that over last 30 years there has been a greater change to our environment and social order than in the proceeding 300. People are having to adjust to longer working hours, increased responsibilities, insecurities around keeping one’s employment, information overload, and pollution of the environment. These changes have occurred while previously existing support systems have become less stable. Traditionally trusted institutions are in crisis. Churches are becoming empty. People don’t trust banks anymore, their financial future doesn’t seems to be as secure as in the past. Instability in family life and social relationships due to forced emigration, high divorce rates – to name just two factors- account for a reduction in the level of emotional support that people have to call upon.
To understand stress from the perspective of the individual, it is important to recognise it as an adaptive response designed to help people to cope with a short-term emergency. The flight/fight response makes people ready to take immediate action in response to a life threatening challenge. Sweaty palms, pounding heart, cold feet and hands, dryness in the mouth- all those symptoms are resulting from activation of systems necessary for an emergency reaction.
Stressors can become intense and chronic and fight/flight response activated for prolonged periods of time. That is what does damage to human psychological and physiological well-being.
Symptoms of excessive stress include frustration, boredom, anger, insomnia, drug abuse, migraines, skin complaints, burn out, increased risk of certain cancers and hypertension, anxiety disorders and depression.
On a psychological level, highly stressed humans tend towards black-and-white thinking, which can be characterised as limits we put on our options, focusing on “either this or that” instead on what is fully available as alternative choices. Another symptom of thinking influenced by stress is worrying and catastrophizing. High levels of stress affect human thinking ability in a very real sense. If the security system of the brain (amygdala) recognizes a situation as threatening, then it triggers the HPA (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal) axis and hijacks the rational brain (Daniel Goleman, 1996). In other words, the amygdala acts before any possible direction from the neocortex can be received. That means that when stressed we don’t have access to our full intelligence, to put it politely. To be quite straight forward: when we are highly stressed, we become stupid.
How we can bring stress levels down?
Let’s talk about that in the next post.
Krystyna Zalewska. MA(Psych)PSI Grad, P.Dip( HGI)
Human Givens Therapist
Facilitator with Positive Success Group
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