The health hazards of stress

Why do we experience the physical symptoms of stress?

Muscular tension, headaches, tightness in the chest – these are the classic initial reactions to negative stress that most of us have experienced at one time or another. But have you ever wondered why you experience them? Why it is that when you are going for a job interview your body seems to rebel.

Your palms become sweaty and damp; butterflies – or is it elephants? – seem to stampede in your tummy, disrupting your concentration; and your heart rate increases to such an alarming height you can feel it pounding in your chest. And, of course, the more you worry about your sweaty palms and butterfly rummy, the worse they get.

These stress reactions may seem untimely and inconvenient but they do in fact serve a necessary purpose. The body has its own protective mechanism for dealing with any occurrences that put a strain on it. And the underlying purpose of every stress reaction is to maintain the body’s integral balance. Under stress, your body has to function in a different way in order to maintain the status quo.

The stages of stress

Stressful situations trigger a chain reaction in the body. For example, if you are suddenly scared by a noise in the middle of the night, your body instantaneously reacts with the ‘flight or fight’ reaction. When you realise that it is just the dustbin lid blowing over, your body quickly reverts to its normal balanced state. The smaller the event, the easier it is for this rebalancing process to take place.

In the inconsequential example of the crashing dustbin lid, there is only one recognisable stage of stress – alarm. However, in more profound stressful situations, there are in fact three recognisable stages:

– the alarm phase;
– the resistance phase;
– and the exhaustion phase.

The Alarm Phase >>

Text Copyright © Alix Needham
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