Updated: Jan 15
The Basics of Stress and Anxiety
As you will see from my personal history in Encounters with Darkness, I was born into a chronically stressful environment. Unfortunately, stress was embedded into my cells and psyche even in my mom’s womb. Trying to look for salvation she turned to religion. Unfortunately, that religion focused on the end of the world, demons, and the devil. Need I say how a child can develop all kinds of phobias, sleeping issues and anxiety?
To this day, it is a work in progress to calm my system down when I have a terrifying nightmare of Armageddon. I decided to make these dreams into short stories since they were so vivid and strange. The creative outlet of writing does wonders in bringing my nervous system back to center.
We talk about stress so much, we almost don’t even pay attention to anything related to it. That doesn’t mean we aren’t personally suffering from it and doing some real hardcore damage to ourselves that affects us and those around us. Stress does take its toll and can create life-long damage. The issue is there doesn’t seem to be real options. And the solutions that discussed is done so frequently that we become habituated and begin to ignore information that could actually be healing.
In this section, I talk about the information you may already know. I want to emphasize how damaging it is if we don’t make a conscious and mindful decision to recognize the sources of stress, create ways of coping or eliminating them, and healing the damage it does to us. Beauty heals pain, as said above helps me produce endorphins, dopamine and other chemicals to counteract the pain and misery of stress.
At the risk of having you yawn when hearing about the ubiquity of stress, I insist we visit what it is and why it is so damaging and anti-self-care. So yawn if you must, but then see how we can get this monster finally under our control for good.
The care of the self is purposely doing things that increase pleasure in a healthy way. What does “healthy way” mean? Things that will bring you back to balance, keep you in balance, help you cope with stress and negativity while actually inducing pleasure. Yes, that's a mouthful. Taking actions that naturally release endorphins and delicious dopamine is such a doable thing once you know what to do and actually do it.
First, we identify how this thing called stress and its sources affect us and the consequences of those effects, negative coping strategies. Then we’ll think of ways of coping, solving, changing, managing, blocking, transforming stress to relieve pain and increase pleasure as a way of life.
Types of Stress
Most people make the incorrect assumption that all stress is the same, when in fact there is such a thing as bad stress and good stress. Technically the bad stress is distress and the good is eustress. For the purpose of clarity, stress here will refer to distress the one that causes damage to us if it is acute and chronic. The stress response in a primal reaction that ensured our survival, but in today’s world, we do not require this response as much, or as often. Instead, our response to stress has been overwritten by being late for work or experiencing social alienation.
Many people do not consider the serious repercussions of suffering from long-term stress, as the acute stress response is what most people are accustomed to. This acute response could be elicited from something as simple as rushing to catch the train for your morning commute or completing a work assignment during the last hour of the day.
Chronic stress is an entirely different beast. If you’ve ever seen someone change after being bombarded with a heavy stress burden, then you have observed the negative changes that may have happened to the brain. Chronic stress affects almost every part of the body, inside and out and the brain is certainly one of the parts that suffer numerous serious consequences.
While serious in their own right, they do not warrant a massive release of stress hormone, but is even worse when it becomes chronic. With that said, there are ways to determine if your stress is chronic or acute in nature, as there are clear differences in their manifestations.
An Anatomy of Stress Inside Your Body
We all know how stress makes us feel—that is easy to explain. But how much can you say that you know of what is actually happening to the organs and systems in your body that is resulting in these feelings? Not much at all, and in some cases, physical changes do not need to occur—only chemical processes.
Regardless, it is good to get an idea of what is going on inside your body, as it helps you develop a greater understanding of the dangerous effects stress can have, and if possible ways to help combat it.
On The Heart and Blood Vessels
The heart is a muscle in the purest sense of the word; a healthy heart has very little fat, and is extremely efficient, contracting like clockwork for the duration of your existence. However, stress hormones change all this. For one, under their influence, the heart starts to beat much more rapidly, partially in response to the stimulating action of these hormones, but also because blood vessels are constricted.
To understand this, think of a water pump. You can use a think one-half inch pipe to supply water, or a large one-inch sized type. When using the half-inch size, the pump needs to work harder to push the same volume of water, or it would take forever. It is similar with your heart, except that it has a quota to maintain to ensure your cells don’t die from oxygen starvation.
Do you ever notice that when under stress or anxiety that you feel “butterflies” in your stomach, and find it difficult to hold your food—or bowels? This is directly the result of these hormones.
Under stress, the stomach produces more acid, which either helps speed digestion (and the desires to empty your bowels) or acid reflux and heartburn. This is why stomach ulcers are said to be more frequent in people who are under high stress. In the intestines, since food seems to move faster than usual, nutrient deficiencies can occur, along with diarrhea.
The Respiratory System
Respiration is tied intimately to our circulatory system, which in part explains why during exercise your heart pumps faster and you breathe faster. This is because blood needs oxygen. In most people, this is fine, and not a problem, but in asthmatics or those with pulmonary disease it can kill you. Stress can precipitate asthma attacks, or constriction of the airways making it difficult to breathe. Hyperventilation is also common, and a characteristic of a panic attack (or insensitivity to adrenalin).
The Reproductive System
Nothing wrecks a sex life like stress, as millions can testify to. This isn’t just psychological, however, but also physical when it interferes with a man’s ability to achieve and maintain erections. In women, menstrual cycle disturbances occur, which can cause painful periods or wildly fluctuating hormone levels throughout the month. In men, cortisol interferes with the normal production of testosterone via the testes, so that sex drive crashes. Do not take work into the bedroom—your sex life may never recover.
Endocrine glands are those body parts that produce hormones which are deposited into the body’s bloodstream. These include the adrenal glands, the liver and pancreas for example. The adrenal glands are forced to produce more cortisol and adrenalin—the two key stress hormones.
In response to this, the liver may begin releasing stored glycogen in the form of glucose, to tend to your seemingly agitated state. The pancreas may also begin producing more insulin, and if the stress response resolves, everything goes back to normal.
However, those that are diabetic, pre-diabetic or who have sensitivity issues to glucose will find not all that circulating sugar goes back into storage, and instead is free to pick trouble. This is why stress is very bad for diabetics.
This is Why We Need to Manage Stress and Anxiety
You may know from your own experience stress and anxiety are undesirable. It is being out of balance and have a cascading effect on every other part of our minds, body and soul. There are options you can use immediately like conscious breathing, caring for your self with proper nutrition, mindfulness, and general self-care. This will make it possible for you to sleep better and in turn that sleep will help you heal more fully. There are many resources, and you can see right here on this blog and many other sources.
Take a few moments now and enjoy, relax, even sleep with the wonders of nature and her wonderful grounding ability with this short video.
Wishing You Wholeness