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
can 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, get
better 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 your
Conscious 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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