Stress is a normal part of living. Elevated stress and the bad effect thereof are also a normal part of living. Few of us understand just how destructive the long term effects of elevated stress can be. Our experience with the Shakti Acupressure Mat gives us absolute confidence that regular use of it will help ANYONE manage stress and reduce the harmful effects of it.
As natural health practitioners we are 100% committed to working with clients to manage stress and reduce its harmful effects. We understand the impact that not dealing appropriately with stress has on our bodies and psyches. We see it every day in clinic. It is a major catalyst for illness and dis-ease. Therefore we have developed a two part article on the Shakti Mat and stress relief. Part one discusses our understanding of stress and part two explores how/why regular use of the Shakti Mat can help. Of course dealing with stress and minimising its effects are more involved than owning and using a Shakti Mat. Even so, if owning and using a Shakti Acupressure Mat are the only stress management/reduction techniques you use -you will still make a huge difference to your health and quality of life.
Stress – An Overview
Ever been told to ‘chill out’, ‘calm down’, ‘just breathe’ or had a heap of other (unhelpful) platitudes offered when you were showing signs of stress? From my point of view, effective stress management requires a mix of strategies – and being told to ‘stop it’ (virtually) is mostly not helpful.
Walter Cannon was the first person to use the term stress to refer to the physiological reaction caused by the perception of aversive or threatening situations. He also introduced the phrase “fight or flight” to refer to the response which prepares an animal to cope with the threats posed by a predator. However it is Dr Hans Selye (MD) who is recognised as ‘the father of the stress field’, Dr Selye described stress as a “non specific response of the body to a demand”. So for Selye – stress is life – living in the world and how we adapt to any demands we experience.
For Selye stress is physical and emotional – think about all the times you have stressed out about something – you get the same physiological results right? Stress is individualised and it is ALWAYS in the body. Essentially Dr Selye, who published over 30 books on the subject, asserted that poor stress adaptation is the root of all disease – it can lead to infection, illness, disease and death. Consider one of his most thought provoking quotes:
“Every stress leaves an indelible scar, and the organism pays for its survival after a stressful situation by becoming a little older.”
Think about that for a second. According to Dr Selye stress is a physical reality – we cannot get away from it – every demand on or body – good or bad – pleasant or not elicits a stress response. So that means we are all, always, experiencing the effects of stress. The big things we commonly call ‘stressors’ are the notable issues that add to the pile of daily or normal stressors. And as you will soon see, managing stress is a juggling act.
I think this is an important distinction, because we do not go along – as we commonly think ‘unstressed’ and then become stressed and then recover. We are, according to Selye constantly exposed to and creating stress responses. The big things we react to add a whole new dimension. I have taken the following from a paper written by Dr Seyle. It is not an easy paper so I have distilled out the salient bits. I really like the following summation:
“Within the general concept of stress, however, we must differentiate between distress (from the Latin dis = bad, as in dissonance, disagreement), and eustress (from the Greek eu = good, as in euphonia, euphoria). During both eustress and distress the body undergoes virtually the same non-specific responses to the various positive or negative stimuli acting upon it. However, the fact that eustress causes much less damage than distress graphically demonstrates that it is “how you take it” that determines, ultimately, whether you can adapt successfully to change.”
Considering the Selye definition of stress – what is your stress balance sheet looking like? How much positive versus negative stressors have you got going on for you?
Here is where is gets even more interesting. Time to throw everything you thought you knew about stress out this window because according to Dr Selye stress is not what we have been taught. Therefore stress is NOT:
- Nervous tension – stress reaction occur in ‘lower animals’ and plants which have no nervous system!
- A discharge of hormones – An adrenaline discharge is frequently seen in acute stress affecting the whole body but it plays no conspicuous role in generalised inflammatory diseases (arthritis, tuberculosis) although these diseases can produce considerable stress. Nor does an adrenaline discharge play any role in “local stress” reactions, limited to directly injured regions of the body.
- The non-specific result of physical damage – Normal and even pleasant activities – a game of tennis or a passionate kiss – can produce considerable stress without causing conspicuous damage – though some do die during sex…
- Deviation from homeostasis – the steady state of the body. Any specific biologic function, e.g. the perception of sound or light, the contraction of a muscle, eventually causes marked deviations from the normal resting state in the active organs. This is undoubtedly associated with some local demand for increased vital activity, but it can cause only “local stress” and even this does not necessarily parallel the intensity of the specific activity.
- a non-specific reaction – The pattern of the stress reaction is very specific: it affects certain organs (e.g. the adrenal, the thymus, the gastrointestinal tract) in a highly selective manner.
- Necessarily undesirable, depends on how you take it -The stress response can be produced by virtually any agent. The stress of failure, humiliation, or infection is detrimental; but that of exhilarating, creative, successful work is beneficial. The stress reaction, like energy consumption, may have good or bad effects.
- Avoidable – Everybody is always under some degree of stress. Even while quietly asleep our heart must continue to beat, our lungs to breathe, and even our brain works in the form of dreams. Stress can be avoided only by dying. The statement “He is under stress” is just as meaningless as “He is running a temperature. ” What we actually refer to by means of such phrases is an excess of stress or of body temperature.
Interesting huh? Through his research Dr Seyle discovered the body ‘s stress response consists of a predictable, non-specific, three-stage pattern of physiological responses:
- The alarm stage – the first stage. When the threat or stressor is identified or realised, the body’s stress response is a state of alarm. During this stage adrenaline is produced to enable the fight-or-flight response. There is also cortisol production
- The adaptive/resistance stage – the second stage. If the stressor persists, the body tried to find some means of coping with it. Although the body tries to adapt to the now ongoing demands the body it cannot keep it up indefinitely and so becomes depleted.
- The exhaustion stage – the third and final stage in the Selye model. (aka Burnout). Since all of the body’s resources have been being used to deal with the prolonged stressor(s) the persons reserves are eventually depleted and the body is unable to maintain normal function. If stage three is extended, long term damage may result as the capacity of glands, especially the adrenal gland and the immune system becomes exhausted and function is impaired resulting in the functional deterioration of a previously working system aka decompensation.
NB stress is individualised – not everyone experiences all three stages. The exhaustion stage is reached only when the person becomes stuck in the alarm stage or goes through the alarm and resistance stages too often. Think about someone working in a job they hate for years, prisoners, people in a violent relationship, etc.
The alarm stage is the fight-or-flight response that prepares a person to meet a challenge or threat. The person experiences the changes characteristic of the first exposure to a stressor which include:
- racing thoughts,
- increased heart rate,
- increased blood pressure,
- muscle tension,
- gastrointestinal distress, etc.
The adaptive/resistance stage is the stage during which the body may return to its pre-excited state and recovers from the physiological strains of the alarm stage once the stressor is eliminated. If the stressor persists, the individual reaches a new level of adaptation as the internal organs mount a sustained resistance. And we humans are so adaptive… we adapt quite readily to all kinds of things – how many times have you heard someone say things like ‘they’ll be right once they get used to it’. That approach takes on a whole new meaning in this context.
It is fair to say we must go through stages 1 & 2 over and over in or lifetime – so that we can change and grown and adapt to new situations. But there is a couple of questions from my POV. How do we deal with the stored stress and how do we determine which things to adapt to? Seems to me many of us send a lot of time in”put up and shut up” mode…
So stress is ALWAYS in the body and we adapt. But here’s the thing – most of us live in our heads. We are continuously experiencing stress and rationalising it because we become accustomed to a certain level of stress in our body. And remember, at the time of stress, your heart was pounding for a reason; it pumped blood and hormones throughout your body to enable to you run or fight. Once your brain realised the threat had passed part of your physiology relaxed. AND your body still has to deal with the injection of hormones it made available for the perceived threat; except the vast majority of us don’t do that processing work and so a whole lot of stuff gets stored.
In evolutionary terms we are in are, in a sense, ‘behind’ our current reality – ie most of us are no longer being chased by wild animals. And for many of us, our stress reactions to a PC virus or when we are cut off in traffic or we have an issue with a friend are the fight or flight response. Yet we do not need to run from or attack the virus in your PC…you get the point. So we are continuallyadding to a pool of stress that we learn to live with. Most people are so accustomed (i.e. adapt) to the feelings of stress they don’t recognise the harm it is inflicting until it’ s too late. So WHY do so many people (you?) have an over the top reaction when life happens?
Find out in part 2 – it’s got a lot to do with some famous dogs…