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Western Reserve Psychological Associates, Inc.Empowering change for over 40 years
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Stress Alert

Stress is an everyday fact of life. You can't avoid it. Stress is any change that you must adjust to. While you usually think of stressful events as being negative such as injury, illness, or death of a loved one, they can also be positive. For example, getting a new home or a promotion brings with it the stress of change of status and new responsibilities.

You experience stress from three basic sources: your environment, your body, and your thoughts. Your environment bombards you with demands to adjust. You must endure weather, noise, crowding, interpersonal demands, time pressures, and various threats to your security and self esteem.

The second source of stress is physiological. The rapid growth of adolescence, aging, illness, accidents. poor diet and sleep disturbance all tax the body. Environmental threats also produce body changes which are themselves stressful. Your reaction to problems, demands and dangers is very much influenced by an innate "fight or flight" response which you inherited from our primitive ancestors. In simple terms, your body undergoes the following changes when you experience the "fight or flight" response: When stimuli coming in are interpreted as threatening, the regulating centers give the body information to speed up in preparation to confront or escape the threat. You muscles become tense to deal with the challenge. Blood pulsates through your head so that more oxygen reaches your brain cells, stimulating your thought processes. Your heart and respiratory rates increase. Blood drains from your extremities and is pooled in your trunk and head, while your hands and feet feel cold and sweaty. If the body is not given relief from the biochemical changes that occur during the "fight or flight" response, chronic stress may result. When you are already stressed and more stress is added, the regulatory centers of the brain will tend to overreact. This causes wear and tear on the body and potentially breakdown and death. For example, the chronic arousal of the "fight or flight" response can turn transient high blood pressure, or hypertension, into permanent high blood pressure.

The third source of stress derives from our thoughts. How you interpret and label your experience, what you predict for the future can serve either to relax or stress you. Interpreting a sour look from your boss to mean that you are doing an inadequate job is likely to be anxiety provoking. Interpreting the same look as tiredness or preoccupation with personal problems will not be as frightening.

You can't escape all of the stresses of life or completely turn off your innate "fight or flight" response to threat, but you can learn to counteract your habitual reacting to stress by learning to relax. The very centers of the brain that speed up your biochemical processes when you are alarmed can be called upon to slow these processes down.

Catherine C. Cherpas, Ph.D.
Staff Psychologist

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