Stress as a Survival mechanism
The word stress is often regarded negatively because of the discomfort we experience when our fight-or-flight response mechanism is activated.
This vital process is designed to keep us alive, but dramatically increases the amount of adrenaline and cortisol in the body, which puts us in an extremely high level of alertness and tension, inevitably leading to stress.
Our ancestors used this fight-or-flight response mechanism to evade dangerous apex predators in prehistoric times, optimizing their genes for adaptation and invariably passing it down to future generations.
Of course, the challenges we face today differ from theirs, but our genes continue the evolutionary process, continually adapting to dynamic environmental challenges.
In other words, stress can be utilized as an effective survival mechanism for life but can become detrimental if life becomes strained because of it.
What is stress?
From a biological perspective, stress is simply a reaction of the body to change, with the process evoking a response or adjustment by the body to the source of stimulus.
From a human perspective, this reaction can be a physical, emotional or mental response, and usually associated with adverse circumstances, although this is not always the case.
Good stress vs bad stress
Adaptation to stress is subjective and is considered positive or negative based on perception and experience.
Good stress can activate a hormonal surge that quickens the pulse and fills us with tension or excitement, resulting in an experience of contentment and optimism for life and the future. It can motivate us to explore adaptional skills that help us overcome challenges and obstacles, for better decision-making, which helps us navigate the future.
An example of good stress could be, participating in a competitive event like athletics, planning a vacation, starting a new job, or asking a love interest out.
In contrast, bad stress can produce similar physiological effects, but with the opposite outcome that generates feelings of threat or fear instead. It can create a negative mindset and attitude, which reduces our ability to adapt and survive.
Bereavement, divorce, or job termination are instances that can accentuate negative stress.
Anxiety and stress
Anxiety, like stress, is also the body’s natural response to a situation it considers stressful or threatening.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), stress is a response to a real or perceived threat in a situation, while anxiety is a response to stress.
A good example would be an introvert that experiences high levels of anxiety towards public speaking, borne out of a general dislike for public interaction.
So, just like stress, anxiety is meant to protect you from danger, but can also serve as a motivator to overcome challenges, to help you boost your chances of survival.
Unchecked, anxiety can progress to a distortion of reality and hindrance in daily living, leading severe and debilitating disorders like panic attacks and irrational obsessive-compulsive behavior.
Types of Stress
Pyschologydegreeguide.com categorizes bad stress into the following;
- Physical – which you can experience from physical exertion.
- Emotional – more commonly experienced by people through divorces, break-ups, which can manifest as physical stress like weight or hair loss.
- Traumatic – an intense, usually painful experience from trauma, like a car accident for instance
- Acute – is the kind of stress that occurs over a short period and doesn’t linger, like an alarm clock going off or morning traffic jams.
- Chronic – is long term exposure to stress that can be debilitating with the potential of illness and fatality.
Acute Stress and Chronic Stress
Acute and Chronic stress are poignant because they are the most encountered ones in our lives.
The difference between both lies in the length of exposure, with unmanaged acute stress, progressing into chronic stress, when innocuous stressful situations become exaggerated to the extent of causing mental or emotional instability.
For instance, the odd argument between a couple would be considered normal but becomes detrimental if the relationship is rife with constant conflict, and coping mechanisms are exhausted.
Symptoms of Stress
While the symptoms of stress will vary in degree depending on the individual capacity, there are general indications that usually fall into physical or emotional categories, which indicate elevated stress levels.
Physical Symptoms are simpler to identify and are directly visible and evident to the naked eye, sometimes developing in a gradual non-threatening manner or in some situations, rapid and dangerous. They include;
- Weight loss
- Extreme Tiredness and weakness
- Headaches and Migraines
- Disorientation and confusion
- Gastrointestinal issues
- Chronic Fatigue
- Low or zero sex drive
- Frequent Infections and colds
- Constipation and Diarrhea
- Lack of coordination and clumsiness
- Teeth Grinding
- Obsessive-Compulsive behavior
- Argumentative or Talkative
- Phantom pains around the body, especially in vital organs
- High Blood Pressure
- Heart Palpitations
- Skin Rashes
Emotional symptoms are more challenging to diagnose and may be overlooked, even by the individual suffering the symptoms. Keeping communication channels open through professional therapy or personal conversations that allow self-exploration and expression, will help in the diagnosis and treatment of these symptoms.
Examples of emotional symptoms include
- Anger or Agitation
- Lack of concentration
- Hypochondriac tendencies
A stress-free life, while desirable, is not ideal or recommended, considering the benefits that stress plays in our ability to evolve through adaption.
Consider it an accumulation of resilient building blocks that enable us to develop better coping mechanisms for managing stress. At the biological level, this resilience helps us minimize the oxidative effects on the body, which can cause illness and disease.
The result is optimized cells adapted to longevity and survival and passed down to future generations through evolution – in other words, survival!
Natural Remedies for stress relief
There are numerous recommendations on how to manage stress, with most falling into the categories of nutrition, meditation, sleep, and exercise. We incorporate these components into our D.O.S.E system, which focuses on boosting lifestyle through natural health.
Within D.O.S.E, our oxygenation component specifically explores managing mental and emotional health, as well as recommendations for stress relief remedies. Find out more here
Of the four components within D.O.S.E, food is the only external source of nourishment that we ingest and absorb for life and growth, comprising of;
- Any drinks or liquids we use for hydration
- Complex foods like proteins, fats, and carbohydrates
- Herbal supplements and vitamins which replace insufficient nutrients in the food we eat.