Stress can affect you in four different ways:
The Physical Effects of Stress
These result in a physically perceived overload. These are present in many forms. One of the first areas to consider is the chemical burden from our modern and affluent lifestyle. Pesticides, fertilisers, additives, sprays and other chemicals which we constantly contact initiate stress reactions within our bodies.
In the excellent book "Allergy Overload", Stephen Griffiths alerts us to the 5,000 allowable food additives; some of which we will ingest daily. Bluntly stated, they slowly poison us. The ingestion of allergenic foods is highly stressful. Most people are considered intolerant to something, the detrimental effects of tea, coffee and alcohol. In addition to being nutritionally valueless, these beverages create a direct physical stress on the internal organs responsible for detoxifying them (mainly the liver) and further unbalance our emotional state because they are stimulating drugs.
There can be physical stress from over exertion as in the case of unfit people attempting stressful exercise, or athletes pushing to achieve goals well beyond the intended capacity of their bodies. Some people feel driven by a fanatical desire to exercise and often end up exhausted and totally depleted.
Consider also, people who work long hours or shift-hours where the natural rhythm of bodily function and internal energy exchanges are either inhibited or thrown out of balance. The proverbial 'workaholic' very often suffers, primarily from physical exhaustion caused by deep - rooted psychological origins.
The Emotional Effects of Stress
Create tension and irritability which is very often manifested as disease and illness as ways of dealing with emotions that cannot be expressed. When a person finds themselves in a circumstance which they feel is beyond their control and with seemingly no resolve, they will often subconsciously transfer their feelings to the physical, as its form of expression.
A common example here is headache, and a common cause of headache is the feeling of hopelessness that results from being locked into a particular role or circumstance. Of course, the more organic causes of headache could include eyestrain, constipation or neck problems and these areas would need to be investigated too. However, no amount of physical therapy will solve the problem if there is a strong emotional "cause" behind it.
A further example of the way that we use disease would be stomach aches in children. This can be a very effective means of gaining parental attention by a child who feels that a new member of the family is getting more than their fair share of attention.
Skin problems usually have an identifiable emotional basis. An irritating skin complaint can often be the result of irritating life circumstances or an irritating person that one would rather not be involved with. It might be irritation with one's job.
If such stresses are not dealt within the right way at the emotional level, they will most likely manifest as an irritating rash or similar condition until the problem is resolved. Another example is constipation. If chronic cases do not respond to the physical priorities of more water and fibre in diet, the cause may be retention in the mind for example holding on tenaciously to old ideas or relationships that no longer serve our best interests. These mental retentions can manifest as the physical retention of rubbish that we would best be well rid of.
Do note at this point that a seemingly identical emotional problem may manifest as a particular physical disease in one person and yet as a completely different disease in another person. There is no hard and fast rule of "one stress, one disease".
The Mental Effects of Stress
These impair logical thinking and can occur for many reasons. There may be a conflict at work or at home; worry about ones appearance or abilities or relationships, children, career or finances. Indeed anything.
A problem which does not bear a second thought for one person, may be a catastrophe for another. These stresses and conflicts are very real for those who are experiencing them. In this sense, stress is highly subjective and here in lies a major key to correcting it. To change ones thinking about a problem is often enough to correct that problem.
The very existence of worrying stress is confirmation that better ways of approaching and handling the situation need to be found. Stressful problems must be rectified or they will make us miserable emotionally and will very likely manifest physically. The vehicles for this physical manifestation being our nervous and endocrine systems, which form the link between thought and the physical. Suppressed emotions result in physical disease as well as mental disease. Two of the more common conditions which are easily related to stress are ulcers and hypochlorhydria. These are often the direct result of emotional and physical stress.
You will recognise that these complaints result in pain and poor digestion and will eventually have an effect on every cell within our body. In recognising the stress - emotional link between the mind and the body, healing must be initiated on both levels. If stress is an identifiable component of most physical problems then every effort must be made to deal with problems emotionally as well as physically. Dietary intervention is also essential.
Dietary indiscretions will be a major factor in maintaining any illness, however it may not be the main issue. If we use ulcers as an example: too only modify the diet would be to treat only half (or less) of the problem. This would not be getting at the cause which may be dissatisfaction with their job or relationship, or just an inability to cope with life as they see it.
To pursue the example of ulcers a little further; we know that they are usually caused by stress. We also know that people under stress are likely to drink alcohol and coffee to try and cope with their stress. Foods that are sugary, fatty and salty are also tasty and satisfying and make a great "pick me up" when we are down or depressed. These foods are popular with ulcer sufferers. So, stress has contributed to the ulcer and has also been a major reason for our choice of inappropriate foods. This poor diet will contribute greatly to increased stress levels because of the "highs and lows" created by the drug-like effect of sugar, coffee and alcohol.
The Behavioral Effects of Stress
These are observable in the way we act or behave. For this it is necessary to observe what happens on a physiological level, and understand how stressful events and emotions affect us physically. We accept that the more toxic elements of our diet have a depressing effect on us. However, it appears that the emotional strains are even more debilitating.
Anything which comprises our immune system is a serious threat to our health. From a purely physical point of view our body reacts the same way, no matter what the stress is. Be it an argument with your employer of flight from a wild animal; the physical response will be basically the same; only the degree of response will vary according to the intensity of the stress. The advantages of the latter example is that you are either going to be eaten by that wild animal or you will escape.
Either way the stress will be resolved. It is often not possible to resolve stresses in our modern and complex framework of social interaction. Intense emotions may have to be buried with no opportunity for immediate or short term resolve. These feelings of anger, futility, resentment and hurt are left to eat away at our very core.
Physical and emotional threats to our well-being are registered by the Hypothalamus in the brain. The Hypothalamus is a major control centre of the brain and initiates reactions via the Autonomic Nervous System. This system is not directly under our conscious control and can act in many ways. It can restrict blood flow or digestive secretions and inhibit the genitalia. It may act to dilate the blood vessels serving muscles involved in the "fight or flight" response. Nerves to the face can dilate pupils and tense facial muscles.
Something as simple as an embarrassing word can send blood rushing to our face. An angry word at work may send blood rushing to our arms and muscles to prompt other physical changes. It is important to acknowledge that all stresses are not bad. Some stress is necessary and is a great motivator. Indeed stress reactions are very necessary for our survival. They are our body's way of preparing for and dealing with crises. This is both necessary and healthy.
What is not healthy is excessive or chronic (ongoing, long term) stress. When we are chronically stressed all of these physical reactions remain active. Everything is thrown out of balance. It is hardly conducive to the digestion if, through a stress reaction, your blood has been directed away from the digestive area and gastric secretion has been inhibited.
Two examples of this would be arguing at the dinner table or maintaining intense mental activity at work whilst eating lunch. The Pituitary Gland is actually an anatomical extension of the Hypothalamus; so close is the connection between the brain and the endocrine glands. The pituitary sends our many hormones which act directly on the tissues of the body and on other endocrine glands which put out even more hormones. Pituitary hormones stimulate the thyroid which produces hormones to raise the metabolic rate during times of stress. Adrenocorticotrophic hormone, or ACTH is produced by the pituitary and carried by the blood to the adrenals.
Therefore, the brain's response to various stresses can increase the secretion of glucocoriticoide from the adrenal cortex to bring about adaptive metabolic responses in order to increase bodily resistance and survival. In conclusion, it is important to realise that however well you appear to cope with everyday life, you will experience stress to some degree.
Moderate amounts are good for you, and can improve your performance, your efficiency and productivity. But too much may generate disabling emotions such as overwhelming anxiety and tension, difficulty in thinking clearly, and a wide range of behavioural responses.