What are the effects of stress?
We all know what stress feels like. If you asked most people they’d probably tell you that it’s just a horrible feeling. Your stomach feels like you’ve been on a rollercoaster. You can’t think straight and you just generally feel uneasy. Everyone knows that stress is unpleasant and harmful to the body, but few people realise the true extent to which it damages our body.
So I wanted to set out an few scientific facts to put the importance of managing stress into perspective. Then at the end I’ll tie the facts up into a way that hopefully makes sense.
Stress is a natural bodily reaction to a threat. It mobilises the body to deal with or escape from the threat. The famous ‘fight or flight’ response.
Because we live in an environment where our existence is relatively fragile and can be endangered quickly, this stress response helps us to survive.
A car comes towards us, we see the danger, our body mobilises us to swerve out of danger and the stress is over. Our body has changed it’s chemical composition to prioritise the danger and then it restores balance. Calmness returns and no harm is done to the long term health of the body.
However as we have evolved into more complex social beings, we have developed past the basic goal of surviving. We now want to be loved, admired and respected. We want to belong and we want to be recognised for what we are and what we do.
So events stop being purely about physical survival. It becomes stressful when someone fails to recognise us as being worthy of respect. It is not just physical danger that can hurt us, but emotional sleights. It is no longer our physical safety that feels in danger, but our self image, our sense of self esteem.
So when the danger of the car has passed and more simplistic species have returned to a calmer state, we are still stressed.
Not from a physical threat, but because we are outraged at the threat to our self image and our picture of how things should be.
‘How dare someone drive in such a dangerous manner?’
‘Something must be done about maniacs who put others in danger’
And so when the physical threat has passed, we maintain the stressful physiology through our thoughts.
This is the point where stress stops being useful and becomes damaging.
Stress is natural and helpful as a 2 or 3 minute burst of energy to move us out of danger. There is no harmful effects in that case. But prolonged stress causes us to drain our body’s resources. It’s much like having a hole in your pocket where your money falls out.
Except it’s not money that you’re losing, but capability. Physical, emotional, psychological and social capability.
Stress wreaks havoc on your body. Disrupting your normal bodily functions and so damaging your health. Read in more detail about the physical effects of stress here.
The emotional effects of stress are that it makes you incapable of acting as a rational, balanced individual and turns you into an obssessed and neurotic idiot. It’s as if the thing that is stressing you, becomes magnified in comparison to everything else. And so it takes up a far greater proportion of your attention and generates such strong emotions that it dominates you.
And so you lose control of your ability to steer your own path and become like a dinghy flung about by the ocean. So the effect is that you feel trapped and powerless. Therefore your emotions run out of control and run between fear, panic, frustration and anger.
The psychological effects of stress are that your ability to focus your mind is weakened. Your mind keeps being dragged back to the object of your tension. You are unable to think creatively and fail to see associations. To put it bluntly, stress makes you stupid.
The social effects of stress are that you are unable to relate to anyone as a loving, patient human. While you are feeling threatened, at best you will be preoccupied, and at worst, you will be outright aggressive and confrontational.
The key to a happy life is to be able to envision somewhere better to work towards. This may be a better living environment, a happier relationship, a more peaceful state of mind or changing some ill in the world. But the point is, that everyone wants something more from life.
Your ability to achieve this goal, this growth and evolution depends on your clarity of mind, fortitude, determination, persistence, creativity and the ability to co-operate with ohers successfully.
Stress holds you back on every one of these elements and a lot more besides.
Without the physical wellbeing to keep going, many of these goals will be outside of your ability to access or if they are still possible, will make you weaker and less determined and persistent. Or ill make the attainment of the goals much less enjoyable
Without emotional health and balance you will not be able to sustain your efforts to reach your desired outcome. You will get distracted and diverted by meaningless issues.
Psychologically, stress impairs your ability to think creatively, to see associations and find the quickest path to your goal. Confusion will grow in your mind until you are so lost and so dispirited that you give up.
Socially, because stress puts you in a place where you feel so off balance and so ill at ease, you will not be able to relate to others as effectively as you could and so there will be conflicts and fall outs and so it’s as if you have to do it all on your own. With most goals, there is too much to do alone and so you’ll fall short and fail.
Life is so simple. Here’s where I am, here’s where I want to be.
Stress is the feeling we get when we feel that we are being held back from getting where we want to be. But the irony is that it is the effects of stress that is keeping us from gettting to where we want to be.
Let’s use a physical analogy to make this point sink in better.
Imagine that you have a cold. Your nose is running and your throat is sore.
All these symptoms are not caused by the cold virus, they are the side effects of your immune system fighting the virus.
If you have asthma or eczema or arthritis, the problem you feel is a shortness of breath, or an itchiness or a pain. These allergies are not caused by the allergen, dust or animal hairs or whatever.
They are actually caused by an over aggressive immune system. In other words, your immune system being vigilent, mistakes a benign foreign body, such as dust to be an infection that could hurt you. And so it launches an attack on the enemy.
So the symptoms that you experience, are the side effects of your own body’s actions. And this is why the medication for such conditions are immune suppressants such as steroids which do nothing to the dust etc. Instead they damp down your body’s mistaken reactions.
Stress is like this allergic reaction, in that we jump to conclusions too quickly and respond too violently to events that in the bigger scheme of things are nothing more than a floating speck of dust or cat hair.
And we suffer the consequences of this over aggressive reaction that harms us to a much greater extent than the event itself would ever have done. Ths is the stupidity of stress.
Advanced Stress Management Guide Contents
What Is Stress?
What Are The Costs of Stress?
What Are The Effects of Stress?
What Are The Causes of Stress?
How Do People Generally Cope With Stress?
The Mindset Shift: It’s Ok To Be Stressed, But Get Over It Quickly
The Secret To Emotional Stress Management
Reduce Stress And Avoid The Stress Tax
How To Deal With Stress
The Way To Relieve Stress
The Law Of Fairness
Pyrrhic Victory And The Value Of Losing