Mankind’s quest to conquer and create allowed us to evolve from primitive beings into sophisticated humans. Unfortunately it has also led to an increasing level of stress in our lives by allowing us to move and think faster. Images of “success” generated through media cause many people to strive for a self-image that compares better to a superhero. I think that we as a society experience a lot more stress than for example in the 1950s.
Stress is a natural response that allows us to mobilize energy reserves in order to defend our life. This is called a “fight or flight response”. It’s a physiological response designed to help us in emergency situations like attacks from predators, severe illness, or famines. It was meant as a short-term response as it otherwise interferes with our well maintained heath.
The body does not distinguish between the causes of stress. Repeated deadlines or too much coffee essentially cause the same physiological stress-response as an attack from a predator. An important difference is that the latter stress is usually resolved within minutes while repeated deadlines and habitual use of stimulants usually leave us in a chronic state of stress.
Long-term stress exposure can cause an array of health problems because it interferes with basically every vital function in our body.
Studies show that long-term activation of stress symptoms can have a hazardous, even lethal effect on your body and brain. Stress causes a multitude of problems. It inhibits the immune and digestive systems and can make it difficult to conceive a baby because it inhibits fertility in both sexes. In children, it can interfere with growth and cause allergies and behavioral problems. If parents experience a lot of stress before and around conception children can be born with imbalanced hormone levels leading to weak constitution, allergies, behavioral problems, and the inability to properly handle stress as an adult.
Stress is a contributor to very serious physical and psychological conditions, including:
- heart disease
- anorexia nervosa
- substance abuse
- irritable bowel syndrome
- memory loss
Constant stress will lead to physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion, and eventually cause burnout. Often individuals feel overwhelmed and are unable to meet constant demands. Burnout reduces productivity, depletes your energy, and leaves you with an increasing feeling of hopeless. Often individuals start to feel unable to properly fulfill their role in family-, social-, and/or work life. This unhappiness can eventually threaten your job, relationships, and certainly your health. Because burnout develops gradually it is often difficult to recognize it early or to get the momentum going to stir against it. The earlier you recognize the symptoms of stress and address them, the better chance you have of avoiding burnout.
To learn more, download the presentation from a recent Seminar on Stress and Health.