Stress is an ever-present problem, and a more serious one than most people realize. It is only through a more thorough understanding of the mechanisms behind it that we can begin to deal with its damages.
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Stress: Fight or Flight
In survey after survey, Americans today identify stress as their primary health concern. More than 50% of adults in the U.S. report feeling highly stressed on a daily basis. Untreated, stress can seriously affect health, work performance, relationships, and general well-being. At the BHI, we don't advocate stress elimination, or even stress reduction, because who of us can realistically eradicate stress from our lives? Rather, we offer a number of ways to help you access the relaxation response and manage your daily stress. If you believe that your health problems are stress related, we can help you with an array of programs and services.
The Stress Response Stress is the term used to define the body's automatic physiologic reaction to circumstances that require behavioral adjustments.
The stress response is also called the fight-or-flight response, as identified by Dr. Walter B. Cannon of the Harvard Medical School almost one hundred years ago. The stress response is a profound set of involuntary physiological changes that occur whenever we are faced with a changing situation. The stress response, critical to the survival of primitive humankind, prepares the body for a physical reaction to a threat - to fight or flee. Confronted by this threat - physical or emotional, real or imagined - the brain releases epinephrine and norepinephrine (also known as adrenaline and noradrenaline) and other related hormones. When released into the body, these messengers propel you into a state of arousal.
When under stress:
- Your metabolism increases
- Your heart beats faster and your muscles tense
- Your breathing becomes shallow and you start to perspire
- The flow of blood to your internal organs and extremities decreases
- The functioning of your immune and digestive systems is inhibited
The stress response is useful and can be necessary in times of emergency, but the frequent or unrelenting triggering of the stress response in our modern life without a balancing relaxation response can contribute to a number of illnesses and symptoms.
Stress and PerformanceStress can be, and often is, beneficial. Harvard's Robert M. Yerkes, M.D. and John D. Dodson, M.D. first described the relation between stress and performance in 1908. At appropriate levels, stress increases both efficiency and performance. For example, before an athletic event, competitors involuntarily elicit the stress response. Before an examination, students exhibit increased heart rate and blood pressure. Similarly, in today's high-powered competitive environment, the stimulus of the fight-or-flight response is often essential to success. As stress and/or anxiety increase, so do performance and efficiency.
However, this relationship does not continue indefinitely in this fashion. When situations produce excessive stress, a threshold is exceeded. This stress overload is associated with diminishing performance and efficiency. This relationship is known as the Yerkes Dodson Law.