Understanding Stress | The Center for Self Development


Everything you do involves some level of stress. Although you might not normally consider sleeping, breathing, eating, standing, etc., as stressful, there is a low level of stress involved.

When you are sleeping, your biological processes are still hard at work. Breathing requires the muscles of your body to contract against the elastic resistance of your body tissue, atmospheric pressure, and gravity. Eating places a demand on your metabolic system to digest and break down the food you have consumed. Standing involves the energizing of specific muscles of your body to maintain your structure and balance. The simple fact that you are alive indicates that you are overcoming a certain level of stress; stress and Life are inherently connected.

Very low-stress activities, such as resting or sleeping, shift the biological operation of your body. While you are resting or sleeping, a specific set of hormones and neurotransmitters are released into your system, your muscles relax, and your heart rate and respiration rate decrease. Blood flow becomes more concentrated in the internal organs and the cerebrum portion of the brain, and your brain waves slow down. Your digestion, immune response, and repair and healing abilities all increase.

This creates the ideal opportunity for your body to repair and replenish itself, and this is when maximum healing can take place. In this low- stimulated state, the “firing” of the sympathetic nervous system is minimal, and the parasympathetic system is dominant. This calm state is sometimes referred to as the Relaxation Response.


When you experience a high level of stress, your body prepares to take action. This preparation is referred to as the Fight, Flight, or Freeze Response. When it is activated, your sympathetic nervous system is jolted, and an emergency cocktail of hormones and neurotransmitters are dumped into your system. These substances increase muscular tension, dilate air passages, constrict the circulatory system, increase heart and respiration rates, and shift blood flow away from the cerebellum portion of the brain and to the extremities. The parasympathetic system temporarily shuts down digestion, the immune response, and repair and healing as the body calls in emergency energy reserves. In short, you are preparing for an emergency situation, and only the most vital body functions that assist survival remain operating at full throttle until the stress threat lowers.

This stress response gives you the burst of energy necessary to fight off attackers, run away from them, or brace yourself. This primitive response helped our ancestors, who faced numerous physical threats, to survive. Although this supercharging of your body is welcome when needed, it comes at a cost. During the Fight, Flight, or Freeze Response, your body is in overdrive and thus sacrifices long-term health for short-term performance. Your body cannot maintain this heightened state; the longer it remains in this state, the faster its limited resources are consumed. One way your body returns to normal is by utilizing this supercharged energy to address the Event at hand and removing the threat or cause of the stress.

This dissipates the extra energy by flushing or recycling the excess hormones, neurotransmitters, and enzymes through body movement. If a high-stress response is induced psychologically and you are in no real physical danger, you are needlessly preparing your body for a physical emergency. Doing so weakens your body, as valuable resources are wasted, and unnecessary pressure and trauma are placed upon all of your body processes. If you don’t use up this supercharged energy, it will often end up expressing itself as increased tension and anxiety, which is simply another form of stress.

In short, you are neurologically over-responding to the Event. If repeated often or maintained for a prolonged period of time, this response can result in fatigue, exhaustion, poor health, and illness, as your body is breaking down faster than it an repair and replenish itself.


Life Events are generally not as one-sided as the low and high levels presented above. Your normal day-to-day stress levels usually dwell somewhere between these two extremes. We refer to these normal, day-to-day stress levels as mid stress. Day-to-day activities (such as driving to work, being late, forgetting something, working, exercising, and staying up late) all register lower on the spectrum of mid stress, whereas more intense circumstances (such as damage to your car or home, winning the lottery, health concerns, moving your  residence, high-adventure sports, and relationship problems) all register higher on the spectrum of mid stress.

The physical response from mid stress will vary based upon the intensity of the situation. There is usually not an all-out emergency response as in a high-stress Event, nor is the body in full repair-and-replenish mode as when it is resting in a low-stress Event; it is somewhere in between. This response is a balancing act between the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems. The greater the stress experienced, the stronger the Response from your nervous system.

Due to the costs associated with higher levels of stress, you may think that unless you need the physical boost it provides, you are better off staying in lowstress situations as much as possible. Low-stress situations are very healing and “appear” to be very safe. However, not all stress is harmful. In Life you need a balance; too much of anything can create an imbalance. You cannot sleep your Life away any more than you can remain in a high-stress state 24 hours of the day without adverse consequences.

It is also important to note that in many ways stress is your teacher, as it points out areas of weakness within you. If there wasn’t a weakness, there would be no stress, and you would handle the Event easily. The fact that you experience stress indicates that there is something that you need to learn or improve upon. Where there is little stress, there is also little challenge or growth, and your body and mind will begin to atrophy. Let’s take a closer look at this below:

If there is insufficient physical stress, the muscles of your body waste away;
your bones become less dense; and your endocrine, digestive, and circulatory systems all become impaired. A sufficient level of physical stress triggers your body to adapt and evolve. That is why you become stronger from exercise, getbetter from practice, grow calluses from work, and acclimate to certain noises or smells your tissues, nervous system, and Consciousness all adapt. Take exercise, for example. The physical stress induced by exercise causes the body to release specific anabolic hormones that help to repair and strengthen the stressed tissue, provided you stay within your ability to adapt and recuperate. These physical adaptations take place automatically and are beyond yourConscious control.

If there is insufficient psychological stress, Life can become boring, dull, and empty. Stagnation, lack of purpose, and depression typically set in. A sufficient level of psychological stress is needed to induce challenge, motivation, and give you purpose. To alleviate the psychological stress, you might create, explore, or take action; and in doing so, you learn and become experienced. As you acquire more knowledge, similar situations become easier to handle because you have adapted and learned how to deal with them. This type of stress is actually energizing; it makes you feel productive and gives you a sense of accomplishment and confidence.

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