Effects of stress

Stress has a surprisingly broad action on our whole being including our immune system and our thinking capacity. 

When I use the word stress, I am using it as a general term to describe any potential threat to our well being. So we are talking of everyday emotional states like fear, anxiety, worry, tension etc. 

Our biological response to stress

A basic understanding of our biological response to stressful situations will put  a lot of what I am going to say in context. It did turn on a few light bulbs for me when I first read this up in Bruce Lipton's excellent Biology of belief.

Our biological stress responses involves a series of signalling/hormonal mechanisms that result in the production of the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones prepare the body by diverting all of the bodies energy resources for a fight/flight response:

  1. Blood from the internal organs is moved to the limbs to enable an effective physical response.
  2. The immune system is depressed to conserve energy to meet the external threat in preference to any internal infection or disease.
  3.  Fore brain functioning is depressed (the slow logical, reasoning, aesthetic portions) in favor of hind brain functioning which is much more reflexive and fast.

The above responses make a lot of sense in the face of an acute threat like being chased by dog or a tiger. You want all your energy to be focused on dealing with the external threat rather than on internal processes like digestion or fighting an infection.

Similarly fast reflexive decisions are favored over slow analytical thinking as they provide higher chance of survival. You really don't want to appreciate the flowers or take a lot of time to decide if you should run left or right when you are being chased :). 

Implications to everyday life

What I have discussed above has surprising implications in everyday life.

The stress response is not an objective response. It is triggered when you perceive a situation as a threat. In other words, the triggers to stress are a matter of individual perception.

In modern life, most individual stressors are not physical in nature and our biological responses which are designed for short lived physical stressors have a very limiting effect on our experience.

Consider the following scenarios that a fair number of people find stressful:

  1. Fear of interviews
    If interviews are a source of fear or stress to a person, then during the interview the body's stress response ensures that his fore brain functioning is impaired! This means that his ability to reason or retrieve related past knowledge  is diminished.  This will naturally affect the interview performance.

  2. Fear of speaking in public
    This is another common fear and one that affected me personally a long time back. The literal 'tunnel vision' that I experienced in front of a group is testimony to the body's response of shutting down my cognitive abilities. It makes it near to impossible to give a good engaging talk even if you are the expert in the subject at hand.

  3. Fear of cancer or any disease
    While the above two fears are generally activated sporadically as not many of us interview or give public talks for a living, a generic fear like the fear of cancer triggers much more often by things like perceived cancerous food items, news articles that discuss the disease and its dangers, or a family member who has/had cancer etc.  
    The unfortunate side effect of this is that our immune system gets depressed as a natural stress response and makes us more susceptible to infection and disease!
    In addition due to the nourishment being diverted away from our vital organs most of our basic processes like digestion get affected and eventually lead to visceral issues.
    The unfortunate truth of our stress response clearly implies that fear of disease is as bad if not worse than an actual disease which we might never contract in natural course of things.

Summing it up

As the examples and discussion makes it clear, even temporary situational stress makes us dumb by impairing our cognitive abilities. This has practical performance repercussions in everyday scenarios.

Chronic stress on the other hand has important health implications. Diverting energy and nourishment away from our visceral organs and depressing our immune system exposes us to illness and reduces the body's ability to heal itself. 

No health intervention like a diet or exercise or medicine can be effective in the face of  depressed immune and internal systems. Any effort to restore health must take a serious look at the the stress situations of the person involved.

Ability to manage our stress effectively can dramatically affect the quality of our everyday experience. 

Given that most modern day stressors are subjective, ability to manage and alter our perception is a key skill in managing stress.

Further reading

  1. Understanding Stress
  2. Understanding our conditioned behaviors
  3. Stress management techniques

Recent Articles

  1. Inflexible schedules

    Different people learn at different rates. If this is not accounted for and a hard tight schedule enforced, it leads to problems.

    Read More

  2. Is the learner passive?

    Whether the design of learning environment keeps the student actively working the skill for the most part or as a passive observer makes all the difference.

    Read More

  3. Positive EFT in the homeo clinic

    This case story describes my experience of introducing positive eft to a few of my wife's clients in her homeo clinic

    Read More