Understanding the Stress Response

The stress response is key to adapting to the various stress that come from our external and internal environments. There are three stages to the stress response. Understanding this help us to see how long-term stress can negatively impact our health and what leads to conditions of nervous exhaustion and chronic fatigue The Three stages of the stress response are: alarm reaction (fight, flight or freeze), resistance (recovery and adaptation) and exhaustion (adrenal fatigue) Psychological response to a serious psychological stress:

1. Fight/flight/freeze reaction is typically accompanied by emotions such as fear, anxiety or aggression 2. Coping strategies to deal with the stressor are activated: problem solving, dealing with the threat, mindfulness techniques, positive self-talk, leaving the situation are all examples of adaptation to the stress. In essence there are three approaches to successfully dealing with stress: changing the stressful situation, avoiding the situation or altering the perception of the situation. If these methods are successful the fight, flight or freeze reaction subside and we go back to a normal state of mind & physiology. 3. If the coping strategies are not successful however that is when things like chronic anxiety, depression, and withdrawal occur. If this situation goes on for long enough the body and mind enter the exhaustion stage where it is no longer possible to adequately adapt to stresses and reactions like apathy, being set off by even minor stresses, and other negative emotional reactions like self-hate, guilt, agitation, self-harm, rumination and other ineffective coping strategies become the norm. In this state the body is generally unable to adapt to the environment and a variety of illnesses manifest. Extreme long-term stress weakens the immune system, imbalances hormones and sets off a vicious cycle in the psyche that is typically very difficult to transcend. Why is this important to understanding anxiety? Chronic anxiety is one of the classic symptoms of long-term inability to adapt to physical and psychological stresses. That brings up the question: why does the body react this way to stress? In a sense it is an adaptive reaction as it puts one in a state of mind that makes them avoid future stresses at all costs. An example of this is social anxiety: where any social contact is feared and avoided, and in a way, this prevents some stresses that may occur from these situations. However, this adaptation is ALMOST NEVER helpful as avoidance of these stresses brings on a host of other stresses, leads to isolation, withdrawal and makes one lose faith in their own ability to adapt to life (self-efficacy) and the worst side effect of this is a loss of respect for oneself. Anxiety leads to many bodily manifestations and is often confused for other diseases, especially those related to cardiac function. This is interesting because in many traditions the heart is thought to be the seat of the soul, and anxiety is a disease of the spirit if there is any to be spoken of. Some symptoms of anxiety are: Worrying, negative anticipation, irritability, fears, poor memory & concentration, lack of interest, mood swings, strange bodily sensations, chest tightness, difficulty breathing, urinary symptoms, sexual difficulties, tremors, muscular tension, restlessness, fatigue, insomnia, indigestion, diarrhea, constipation and many more! What does this show us?

Anxiety can cause nearly any symptom and is often mistaken for another disease. HOWEVER, this does not mean anxiety is “not real” or “in your head”- in fact the various ways it manifests shows that ANXIETY IS JUST AS MUCH IN YOUR BODY, hence the wide ranging effects that an anxious state can have on EVERY organ system. Anxiety is REAL, it is incredibly common with some figures noting that 1/5 people in the United States experience it regularly, but the good news is YOU’RE NOT ALONE. Let me say that again YOU ARE NOT ALONE. I believe that anxiety is even more common than one in five people, and the only reason why it seems like such a “me problem” is because there is a stigma in talking about it and in issues with mental health in general in this society. Anxiety is so common it can be considered a disease of the human condition. Society and cultural factors surely play a big role in this, and have increased the incidence of anxiety, but humans have experienced anxiety since prehistoric times. ANXIETY IS NOT YOUR FAULT; it is an adaptation failure of the body/mind to your life circumstances or environment. It is, however, your responsibility to yourself and the world to get yourself out of that state and enjoy your life so you can share that joy with others! I have dealt with anxiety in my life, and seen it firsthand countless times, and believe me when I say this: THERE IS A WAY BEYOND IT. For most people anxiety is a state that they can heal themselves from, is it easy? Absolutely not but it IS POSSIBLE. And it is possible through completely natural means, ANXIETY IS NOT A DISEASE MAINLY DUE TO NEUROCHEMICAL IMBALANCES-that theory has been disproved time and time again, but it remains in our psyche. Neurochemical imbalances are a SYMPTOM of anxiety/depression, and only very rarely the cause of them. The only cases where the imbalance causes it that I know of are strong genetic susceptibilities to it, physical traumas like TBI and anxiety due to physiological factors such as low blood sugar and other biochemical imbalances in the body. The process of recovery may take a long time, but that is because it took a long time to develop- since early childhood for most people. The theories on what causes anxiety in some and not in others, and why some people are more prone to long term trauma than others are many and we will discuss those in a later article, but for now LET’S FOCUS ON THE SOLUTION. What is the solution to anxiety, and how can one heal? There are a variety of approaches, one of my favorites is meditation and other mindfulness practices such as prayer, positive affirmation & visualization. Getting moving is another great way to rebalance the stress response in the body and take our mind off of things we cannot change. On holistic psyche I will share herbs that can help with anxiety, depression and other mental health conditions. Herbs can help tremendously with adaptation to stress, lowering anxiety in the moment and supporting the nervous system. They allows us to be able to make the mentality and lifestyle changes to adapt to stresses in a healthy way long term, and lead to peace of mind and a fulfilling life. Even natural means should not be used as a crutch to avoid making the changes we know will make all the difference, but they can be a powerful ally in a holistic approach to mental wellness.

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