Stress: What Is This?

Stress: What Is This?

I have two news for the readers of this text. First: stress constantly accompanies our lives and they cannot be avoided. Sounds like a verdict. Therefore, I hasten to publish the second news: without stress, we would not be able to fully live and survive.

We used to believe that stress is a reaction of the body to the action of an unpleasant or harmful factor. It is manifested in the deterioration of the psycho-emotional state. However, the scientific view of stress is not so unambiguous and pessimistic.

Our environment is constantly changing: the air temperature is falling or rising, there is precipitation, the atmospheric pressure fluctuates, smog appears in the cities. Our wallets are getting fatter and thinner, we are achieving professional success or we are failing. And in all cases, our bodies must adapt to new challenges.

There is a universal mechanism that allows all to be flexible in different circumstances. And this mechanism is stress. It is through the stress that we can adapt to changes in the environment and society. And it does not matter whether the circumstances in which we find ourselves are pleasant or unpleasant.

The term “stress” (from the English stress – “tension”, “pressure”) was introduced by the American physiologist Walter Cannon in 1932. The term became more widely used thanks to the Canadian endocrinologist Hans Selye, who explained the basic mechanisms of adaptation of the organism.

So what is stress? It is nonspecific, the stereotypical response of the body to anything. All the factors that cause stress are called stressors. They can be of any nature: physical, chemical, geological, biological, social.

There is a universal mechanism that allows all living organisms to be flexible in different circumstances. And this mechanism is stress.

The words “nonspecific” and “stereotypical” mean that any stressors trigger the same reactions in the body. For example, how would you react to the sound of a car’s brakes that you didn’t notice when crossing the road? And how do you react, for example, to an excellent grade on a difficult exam? There are different stressors and we perceive them with different organs, but in both cases, you will be excited, the frequency and depth of breathing will increase, the heart will work faster, the pressure will rise.

With knowledge about the development of stress reactions, you can predict and plan your behavior and behavior of other people.

Stress develops in all organisms equally. It begins with the stage of anxiety, which lasts from a few seconds to 48 hours. At this time, the body seems to be trying to “orient” in the situation. At first, he behaves “confused”. Severe stressors can cause low blood pressure, temperature, muscle tone, and more. Because of this, the initial stage of the anxiety stage is called the shock phase.

But after a short time, the organism passes to the counter-shock phase. At this time, it mobilizes all possible resources to combat stress and adapt to new conditions. Such mobilization occurs due to the activation of the sympathetic nervous system and the release of adrenaline by the adrenal glands.

As a result, body temperature and blood pressure rise. The amount of glucose in the blood increases – the main source of energy for the brain, heart, and muscles. The heart beats faster and harder, breathing deepens. Muscle tone increases, the brain is activated, increasing the efficiency of its activities. The volume of blood circulating in the vessels becomes larger. Increases the breakdown of nutrients.

If there are enough resources in the body, then the stage of anxiety passes to the next stage of the stress response – the stage of resistance.

If the stressor is dangerous for the body, it is worth actively counteracting such a threat. In this case, the body produces enzymes that can break down, physically destroy the source of danger. In physiology, this type of stress response is called a catatonic reaction.

But stressors are not always dangerous for the body. For example, allergens themselves do no harm. But they provoke the development of unwanted inflammation. Therefore, in this case, it is better not to spend precious resources on combating stressors, but to “come to terms” with them.

And so that the inflammatory process does not become dangerous, it must be suppressed. To do this, the body secretes the adrenal hormone cortisol, which has a pronounced anti-inflammatory effect. The described type of stress response is called syntactic.

Interestingly, during stress, the activity of not only internal organs stereotypically changes. We also respond to stress by changing our behavior. And such behavioral reactions are not very diverse. On the one hand, we eliminate the stressor by “attacking” it. Or, if the stressor is too powerful, we “run away” from it. This behavioral response to stress and danger is called “Fight or Flight”.

Another strategy of behavior is fundamentally opposite. This is a reaction – “Freeze”. In this case, we try to get used to or ignore the cause of stress. We just wait until the stressor is over.

Picture Credit: Unsplash