In this special series Russell Semon will explore four key questions about stress:
Part 1: What is Stress?
Part 2: How does your body respond to Stress? (Physiology)
Part 3: What role does your mind play in responding to Stress? (Belief / Perception)
Part 4: Is it possible to live a Stress-Free life?
Today we continue with “How does your body respond to stress?” Putting actions with words, we’re not just talking about stress, we want to help you manage your stress! As with other days, Russell is giving away 5 free Cerny Smith Assessments that includes the test and a follow-up meeting with him. You can read about the CSA here and enter below to win the one of the five given away today! Without further ado, on to the article.
Have you heard of the “boiling frog syndrome”? Conceptually, it’s what happens when an individual fails to accept, acknowledge, or act against a problem that gradually increases in severity until it reaches disastrous consequences for that individual. Maybe you’ve heard about it from the perspective of the parable, the frog in the kettle. The idea is that if you place a frog in a kettle of cool water and slowly raise the temperature of the water, the frog’s body slowly adjusts to the temperature until it eventually dies. But, supposedly, if you were to drop the frog into a pot of boiling water, it would immediately jump out. PETA concerns aside, the illustration fits well with how our bodies often react to stress. (No frogs were injured in the preparation of this article!)
In the first article, using an engineering formula analogy, I compared stress to the weight or burden imposed on us by life challenges. Switching to the frog in the kettle analogy, life is good and we’re living relatively stress free until the water temperature slowly rises. We experience our “temperature” rising due to stress through physiological responses like, increased heart rate, shallow breathing, headaches, upset stomach, muscle tension, change in appetite, irritability, difficulty sleeping, etc., but like the frog, many of us don’t stop to consider the long-term effects of these symptoms until they result in more serious physical complications. This is what happens to our bodies as a result of chronic stress.
Psychiatrists, Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe (1967) studied the link between stress and physical illness. Their “Life Stress Inventory” has been widely used to inform people of potential long term health risks related to stress. The inventory lists areas of “Life Change” and ascribes a weighted value to each. Holmes and Rahe propose that the accumulation of multiple stressors and the sum of the life changes weighted values have some predictive value for future negative health outcomes.
They suggest that a total score of 300 or above represents an 80% chance of a “health breakdown” in the next 2 years. I’ve read that research performed by Larry and Lois Dodd (2000) found the average American stress score was 200 and that the average cross-cultural worker scored around 650. I’m not quite sure where the “boiling point” would be on this scale, but it seems like scores over 300 would definitely have the kettle whistling.
What happens if the stress is severe, or perceived as potentially life threatening? The human body’s reaction to acute stressors is more immediate than the “slow boil” of chronic stress. When we experience acute stress our bodies go through what’s known as the General Adaptation Syndrome, which I find somewhat ironic because it is very much like putting your foot on the gas!
The first phase of this syndrome is the Alarm reaction phase. It is during this phase that we experience the “fight or flight” response. Your adrenal glands release cortisol (the stress hormone) and you get a boost of adrenaline which increases the energy you need to quickly respond and avoid harm.
Sometime after the initial reaction, as the threat diminishes, cortisol levels are decreased and your heart rate and blood pressure begin to return to normal. Your body and mind remain alert to potential danger as your body slowly returns to pre-reaction levels.
The next phase in this stress syndrome is the exhaustion phase. This phase occurs after your body has returned to a pre-reaction state and the impact of expending large amounts of physical, emotional and mental energy during the alarm reaction results in exhaustion.
Whether your stress is chronic or acute, the body’s response, the symptoms you experience, serve as warning signs for you to take action. The sooner you respond to the warning signs, the increasing weight or rising temperature, the more likely you are to avoid potentially serious physical complications. (e.g., heart disease, diabetes, mental health challenges, etc.) God’s design in the body’s response to stress is ultimately to ensure that we are well, body and soul.
Pay attention to the warning signs in your body that tell you the temperature is rising. Returning to the engineering example, God uses your body to let you know when the weight of something is getting too heavy. Many of us need to grow in paying attention to and listening to our bodies, and believing them when they communicate with us!
Paying attention to our bodies is one thing, doing something about it quite another. Sometimes not paying attention to our bodies becomes a habit, and habits are hard to break.
I’m glad that we have a God that cares, understands and who tells us to come to Him and He’ll give us rest. (Matt. 11:28). I find encouragement in Paul’s exhortation to not be anxious about anything but in everything, be thankful to God. I pray that as you respond to life’s changes and stressors in your life, you will experience the peace of God “that transcends our understanding” trusting that He will guard your hearts and minds.
In the next article, we will take a look at what role our minds play in our stress.
Leave a comment on today’s post and you’ll be entered to win one of the FIVE available today (winners drawn by end of day Friday in America). Other opportunities to win will come with parts 3 and 4. To be sure you don’t miss out, subscribe to the blog here.