What Happens When You Are Under Stress
The reaction to stress is a primitive adaptive response the purpose of which is to help you survive in “stressful” situations. Your body responds exactly as it did thousands of years ago. To understand its impact on your physical self, let’s go back to cave man days. You are out hunting for dinner and suddenly you see saber toothed tiger who is also out looking for a meal. You freeze. You are very still, but your body is not. Your concentration is hyper-acute and focused. You brain is working as fast as it can analyzing all possible choices and outcomes. Your body has prepared you for the response to an aggressive onslaught.
Your breathing rate has doubled. This brings more oxygen into your lungs and is filtered into the blood stream. Your blood pressure has increased twofold. This speeds the flow of blood through the veins and arteries to provide faster access to white blood cells if there is an injury or cut. Your pancreas has released stores of sugar to give you more energy instantly. You notice that your muscles are very tense, but ready to spring into action.
All aspects of your body’s functions that are critical for survival are on high alert, but those not needed are decreased. Your digestive system is slowed. You can’t think of eating. Your reproductive system is not important. You certainly are not thinking of sex. Your immune system is lowered, since your body is not worried about catching a cold.
The tiger moves on, and you are safe. As you sit down to wipe your brow, you find that your heart rate and breathing are slowing down to normal. If you measured your blood pressure in your caveman way, you would find that it also dropped back to its usual level. Your body has returned to its pre stress condition.
Why Stress Is A Problem
The reaction to stress is designed to help you survive. When the stress is over, your body returns to its normal state of functioning. One problem with life today is that the stress does not end. Think of your Blackberry. That’s right, you have absolutely no free time. Now remember your obligations at home and at work. Think also about your other pressures, time, money, and schedules. Very often the stress does not remit in our lives, and our bodies do not go back to a normal state. Instead, they stay on high alert all the time.
The problem with this is that the aspects of your system that were not needed in survival mode are very much needed under normal conditions. Your immune system needs to function for you not to get sick. Dozens of studies have demonstrated a direct link between stress levels and lowered t-cell counts. Others have demonstrated the connection between stress and heart attacks, strokes, high blood pressure, and diabetes,. Gastro-intestinal disorders like IBS, peptic ulcers, headaches, sleep disturbance, sexuality, fertility, and memory loss are all targets of stress.
No matter the type of acute stress disorder treatment, the goal is the same. Through therapy, the person experiencing acute stress disorder will realize that the trauma hasn’t become his/her entire life story.