The Impact of Stress

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This week’s group looked at stress.  Some people are stressed because of the situations that are going on around them and how they respond to try and cope with these.  Some people are stressed because of the unrelenting mind chatter or ‘washing machine heid’ where it feels difficult to switch the thoughts off.  Others feel stressed due to sensations or emotions that just seem to come unbidden which makes merely functioning feel like a struggle.  Feeling overwhelmed can be a sign you are stressed.  Gabor Maté says stress has 3 components; the first, the stressor is the event, physical or emotional interpreted as threatening.  The second, our process of that event interpreting what the event means.  The third is our stress response which are the bodily and behavioural responses we make to the perceived threat.  The bodily responses affect our hormonal system, immune system and digestive system (MATE, 2019).

“The word stress was originally an engineering term.  It referred to how much pressure a building could take before it collapsed.  These days a lot more people are collapsing from stress than buildings” (Joyce Meyer).

Stress is the feeling of being under too much mental or emotional pressure.

Pressure turns into stress when you feel unable to cope. People have different ways of reacting to stress, so a situation that feels stressful to one person may be motivating to someone else.

The group discussed how they noticed stress in themselves and others and shared things which help to reduce stress.  Group members noted that when they felt stressed, they could feel quite invisible and unheard and unable to speak.  Stress can manifest in feeling agitated, irritated, skin rashes or feeling sick.

Short term stress is useful and protective for us while becoming stuck in stress can impact the body through such ailments as more regular illness due to lowered immunity, digestive issues and bodily stiffness or aches related to tension and stress can exacerbate existing conditions.

The American Psychological Association reports that “Back in the early 1980s, psychologist Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, PhD, and immunologist Ronald Glaser, PhD, of the Ohio State University College of Medicine, were intrigued by animal studies that linked stress and infection. From 1982 through 1992, these pioneer researchers studied medical students. Among other things, they found that the students’ immunity went down every year under the simple stress of the three-day exam period. Test takers had fewer natural killer cells, which fight tumors and viral infections. They almost stopped producing immunity-boosting gamma interferon and infection-fighting T-cells responded only weakly to test-tube stimulation.

Those findings opened the floodgates of research. By 2004, Suzanne Segerstrom, PhD, of the University of Kentucky, and Gregory Miller, PhD, of the University of British Columbia, had nearly 300 studies on stress and health to review. Their meta-analysis discerned intriguing patterns. Lab studies that stressed people for a few minutes found a burst of one type of “first responder” activity mixed with other signs of weakening. For stress of any significant duration – from a few days to a few months or years, as happens in real life – all aspects of immunity went downhill. Thus long-term or chronic stress, through too much wear and tear, can ravage the immune system” (The American Psychological Association).

For this reason then it is good to have a few techniques to lower stress.  The group spoke about meditating-mentioning that the more stressed and busy you feel the more benefit you will feel from meditating longer.

It’s also good to know when to get off the treadmill-when feeling overwhelmed by tasks and demands we can ramp up the speed, or turn it off.  Stop and have a breather, say no to a few things recognising it is not possible to do everything. 

Stress can also be caused by the way we stick to our own ‘rules for living’ these can often be rigid and originate from our core beliefs.

For example, ‘I can’t let anyone down’ (and then I won’t be rejected).

‘I need to worry about everything’ (and then I’ll be prepared and able to prevent anything bad from happening).

‘I need to email that person for Granny, make those two phone calls about school as the kids are not doing it, home bake a complex Delia dessert for the in-laws visit on Sunday and complete the month long basket of ironing, take the car to the garage for the MOT and collect my wife’s dry cleaning.  By 10am.  Today.’ (and then I’ll be seen as good enough).

The group spoke about the importance of awareness of feeling stressed because once aware you can do something about it.  Perhaps the next thing to be aware of are the rules for living which are causing a lot of pressure and demands and see if some of these can be changed.

The group also spoke about putting off tasks which feel uncomfortable, recognising that this behaviour leads to stress as all of a sudden it is required to do the task imminently which feels stressful. There are environmental, behavioural, cognitive and self-soothing approaches to reducing stress. More complex stress conditions may need a more targeted approach, however there are some general methods we can employ for stress reduction described by Van der Kolk as ‘housekeeping’. (Van der Kolk, 2019).

References:

MATE, D., 2019. WHEN THE BODY SAYS NO. London: VERMILION, pp.31-32

Van der Kolk, B., 2019. The body keeps the score. Penguin Audio.

The American Psychological Association https://www.apa.org/research/action/immune

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