Physiological and/or biological stress is an organism’s response to a stressful event during which the body’s sympathetic nervous system is engaged resulting in fight-or-flight response. Much like in the rest of nature, most biochemical processes of the human body are designed to converge towards and maintain a steady state called homeostasis, often simply referred to as equilibrium. Despite a persistent desire of the body to achieve this state, stressors such as environmental factors and internal as well as external stimuli continually disrupt the homeostasis, introducing deviations and oscillations to the body’s functions.
Stressful events have historically posed a direct threat to one’s survival and were short-term in their nature, while majority of present day stressful events do not pose direct threat to survival, tend to be long-term in nature and are a result of the modern human society and lifestyle.
Examples of common stressors:
- Physical Stressors: lack of sleep, poor diet, excess caffeine, illness, chronic pain, bacteria or parasites
- Job Stressors: commuting, time pressures, job insecurity, excessive working hours, workaholism
- Family Stressors: caring for a chronically ill relative, relationship difficulties, arguments with children
- Social Stressors: fear of crime, living in an urban area, poverty, low social support
- Environmental Stressors: pollution of the environment (air, water, etc.)
While the body is able to deal with short-term stress successfully, long-term daily stress exposure will lead to chronic imbalances and problems. Body’s shift to persistent fight-or-flight response leads to permanently activated state, with the parasympathetic system turning off, leading to substantial physical and chemical consequences. Such conditions often result in adrenal exhaustion, subsequently leading to symptoms such as hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and/or weight gain (due to high cortisol levels). The severity of the condition is often compounded by bad dietary habits like consumption of coffee, caffeinated/energy drinks, soft drinks, sugar, artificial sweeteners as well as highly processed foods.
So how can stress be managed? Wake up with a smile, formulate realistic daily schedules and respect them as much as possible, take breaks, smile, have a laugh, allow time for enough sleep, relax, replace junk food with whole foods, fresh vegetables and fruits, take a walk outside, increase physical activity, exercise, go on vacation, meditate, visit a spa or yoga studio, get a massage or try acupuncture and biofeedback.