The Silent Killer!
The previous page was an introduction to the subject of Stress and gives a definition and overview of this widespread epidemic also known as the silent killer.
As we continue, we will look at the havoc stress can reap and the triggers that cause it to take a stranglehold of your life:
- Stress is a significant contributor to the six leading causes of death which are: cancer, heart disease, lung conditions, accidents, liver cirrhosis and suicide.
- Stress can speed up the ageing process and chronic stress can lead to depression, diabetes and cognitive impairment. Read more:
- As a response to chronic stress the body releases powerful hormones to the brain. Prolonged exposure can damage, shrink and kill brain cells.
- During stressful situations, your body releases a hormone called cortisol which causes abdominal fat to accumulate. It also enlarges individual fat cells which is why researches have branded it the ‘diseased’ fat.
- Stress raises your blood sugar level. Raised blood sugar level is one of the precursors for diabetes. The exposure to stress causes a fight/flight response from your autonomic nervous system. Your body cannot respond effectively to such situations if your blood sugar is low. To rise to the challenge, so to speak, your body’s blood sugar rises, releasing stress hormones like cortisol and epinephrine (the latter also known as adrenaline). Adrenaline is the acceleration hormone which causes physical changes in your body such as elevated blood pressure and metabolism, faster breathing rate and racing of the heart.
- Stress plays a role in high blood pressure, irregular heart beat, reduced immune system response, erectile dysfunction, infertility problems, hair loss and a multitude of health conditions and related problems.
Read some trivia facts on stress here
A Modern Life-style
Living in the 21st century has become the perfect breeding ground for Stress. Although most of us would welcome the advancement of information and communication technology, it comes with a very high price tag attached.
It seems the more we move towards a ‘touch of a button’ or an ‘instant fix for everything’ society, the greater the need to create a life style to match. Keeping all the balls up in the air at the same time has become a permanent feature for most folk.
Also stress invariably raises its ugly head in situations of unexpected life-changes such as the loss of a job or the diagnosis of a serious illness. Traumatic events such as the death of a loved one can also result in stress.
The Oxford Dictionary defines stress as ‘the state of affair involving demands on physical or mental energy.
It is worth mentioning that not all exposure to stress is adverse and the body’s healthy response to events produces the positive stress called eustress. When you face an emergency situation such as racing to help at the scene of an accident for example, your stress response (or flight or flight response) can actually help, as it heightens your state of alertness.
Physical changes occur in your body. Your pupils dilate to improve vision, the liver releases some of its stored sugar to increase energy, sweat is produced to reduce your body’s temperature. The body is priming itself to meet the challenge and does so more effectively to handle the pressure in the moment.
Acute stress is the short-lived, temporary or single episode you are faced with. When you are exposed to a real or perceived threat, challenge or scare your body immediately responds and activates its flight or fight mechanism as we discussed above.
It is immediate, intense and in some cases the ‘thrilling’ response by your body which defines this type of stress as acute stress. As well as the stressor (event) being short-lived and non-recurring, this form of stress is less serious and does not generally cause problems for healthy people. The stress diminishes once the situation is resolved.
Exposure to acute stress activates eustress as the body’s response and can be useful. In cases where a deadline is approaching for example, stress can give you an adrenaline rush to help you become more productive, motivated and focused. It is the ‘action plan’ of choice with students who use this type of stress to ‘cram’ before exams.
You may experience this type of stress after being involved in a car accident, or just before you give a presentation at work.
It is this form of stress that results in the prolonged elevation of cortisol levels in the body and is linked to very serious health conditions such as heart disease and stomach ulcers. Chronic stress can also lead to depression and more serious mental health conditions.
You may experience this type of stress as a result of an unresolved traumatic childhood event which has left emotional or psychological scaring. Ongoing illness of a family member or looking after a disabled or elderly relative for an extended period of time are examples of stressors that can bring about chronic stress.
Now let’s move on to the events that cause stress in your life.
Stressors (Events ) and their Triggers
Stressors are the events or conditions in your surroundings that may trigger stress. Having an awareness of what they are and how they show up in your life is the first step of eliminating or at least reducing harmful stress.
Your stress response is caused by four main areas:
The stressors that stems from the relationship with others and the environment and present as your life events and personal conflicts. They include but are not limited to:
- Working long hours
- Too much responsibility at work
- Working under dangerous situations
- Being in a long-term unhappy relationship
- Winning the lottery
- Facing a serious health diagnosis /treatment
- Spending too many hours travelling, either in traffic or on a plane
- A new baby on the way or getting married
- Care giving to a disabled or elderly relative
- Loss of employment
Stressors that expose you to pain, vigorous exercise, intense heat or cold. They can show up as the physical wear and tear on your body. They include but are not limited to:
- Excessive walking
- Excessive exposure to cold or hot weather such as a homeless person in winter
- A broken leg after a skiing accident
- Long exposure to excessive noise
- Excessive cycling or extreme physical exercise
- Working in the construction industry as a labour lifting heavy weight all day
- Getting into a physical fight
- Sleep deprivation
- Physical Trauma
Psychological or emotional Stressors
This stressor causes the emotional response of sorrow, fear, anxiety etc. They include but are not limited to:
- Emotional childhood abuse
- Death of a loved one
- Dysfunctional home environment
- Sibling or parental separation
- Violent or abusive marriage
- Parental rejection
- Being the victim of long-term bullying
- Confusion of sexual identity
- Lack of cultural identity
Arterial blood imbalance or acid imbalance (too low or high Ph) are stressors that can trigger stress. They include but are not limited to:
- High sugar and junk food
- Caffeine drink such as coffee
- Nicotine in cigarettes
- Chemical pollutants in the environment
This section has primarily covered the effects of stress in your life and looked at some of the stressors that trigger stress.
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