Stress is the body's biological and psychological response to a threat. Stress occurs when the body perceives that it lacks the necessary resources to deal with a threat. It's often our reaction to various stressors in our environment.
Stress causes the body to undergo several automatic physiological responses to a stressor, including increased heart rate, increase in breathing rate, perspiration, adreanal release, decrease in appetite and more. Stressors cause our bodies to react and enter a 'fight or flight' state.
Our bodies determome whether a situation or action is stressful in two different ways. The body relies on sensory inputs provided by sensory organs like sight and hearing to process whether something is potentially stressful. It also relies on past experiences to evaluate if an event, situation or action is a potential stressor.
Stressors in the past for our early ancestors were animal attacks where the 'fight or flight' response enabled them to survive the attack. In the modern world, stress is often a result of things like loss of a loved one, financial hardships, exams, massive changes in daily life, etc. The stress response cycle is a survival mechanism that has evolved over time, allowing us to survive various stressors.
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What is the Stress Response Cycle?
Stressors are rarely a one-time event, and in the modern world we are continuously peppered with various stressors. A stress cycle has several steps that begins with a stressor causing a person to experience stress and ends with having to face the stressor.
Different Stages in Stress Cycle
The first stage of the cycle involves individuals perceiving and appraising the stressors they have encountered.
The next step involves an involuntary response to the stressor where the brain and body have recognised the stressor as a potential threat. That causes the body to undergo several physiological responses, like activating the amygdala and signals are sent to both the pituitary gland and the hypathalmus.
Amygdala, working with the pitutary gland and hypathalmus, launches a 'fight or flight' response in the body. That causes the heart to beat faster and the body to take more breaths than usual. The body also has an increase in energy to be used to deal with the stressor.
In the next stage, the individual begins to gain awareness of the responses to the stressors and lessons the response to an extent. Anxiety, worry and dread are common thoughts in individuals during this stage of the cycle.
In the last stage, individuals respond to the stressor in various ways to deal with it. Healthy responses like meditating and exercising can decrease stress, while unhealthy responses like procrastinating can provide some immediate relief but can cause problems in the future.
Why is Completing Stress Cycle Important?
While the 'flight or fight' response was an incredibly useful tool enabling our ancestors to survive attacks from predators and natural calamities, modern stressors like work deadlines don't always result in the completion of the stress cycle.
If the cycle is not complete, the body continues to repeat its stress response. That can lead to both psychological and physiological problems, like irratibility, anxiety, poor sleep, depression, stomach ulcers, fatigue and emotional burnout.
Ways to Complete Stress Cycle
These cycles can cause a lot of different problems if they are not taken care of properly. Fortunately, there are several things that can be done to successfully complete the cycle. They include:
Physical Exercise/ Movement
Through physical exercise or movement of any kind, individuals can mimic the 'flight or fight' response.
Exercise and movement deepens breathing in an individual as well as relaxes their tense muscles. Staying active regularly has several benefits and helps complete the cycle. Activities like working out, playing sports, yoga, swimming, cycling, dancing and jogging on a regular basis can help complete the cycle and prevent stress accumulation.
The cycle of stress can be completed when peple engage in creative pursuits. As expressing one's creativity leads to future enthusiasm, excitement and energy, creative pursuit can be a fabulous option for those looking to break the cycle. Creativity can be expressed through painting, singing, dancing, baking, knitting, acting, drawing or creating works of art, among others.
Focused breathing is great for physiological health, as it can regulate the nervous system. Paced breathing, which involves taking in slow breaths, pausing and exhaling in a slow, deliberate manner, is great for dealing with stress and completing the stress cycle.
Friends, family, co-workers and acquaintances all combine to form a social network for individuals. Positive social interactions act as strong emotional support in times of need and can help end the stress cycle.
Stressors are all around us. If a stress cycle is not actively completed, it's capable of causing several problems in life. However, there're several things a person can do to close their stress cycle and deal with the stressors in their life.
Q. Do you know how to break the stress response cycle?