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An Unwell Body: Chronic Stress(ors) All-Around; (Series 2, part 3.A)



Thank you for joining me in this post where I aim to explore how chronic levels of stress can make our bodies physically unwell. I am going to highlight the significant differentiation between a stressor and stress itself and how your body may get stressed by a stressor that is not even ‘yours’.


To offer this topic enough attention, I will split the content into two parts (A, B), for full information check out the next post coming soon.   


Before I begin, I would like to clarify that I am only exploring general daily occurrences of stress and stressors in this blog. In situations of life-threatening stress(ors), such as attack, or abuse, our stress response would be much more complex than this post demonstrates, and I may explore that in a future write-up.  


Defining Stress and Stressors


Perhaps you have never thought about differentiating the meaning of stress and stressors, and trust me, you wouldn’t be the only one.


So, let me explain a little further what I mean by stress (without going into depth of biology; I will visit that in my next post) and a stressor, and why it is so important to distinguish one from the other.



The Dreaded Stress…


Stress is not (only) ‘in your head’, stress is a physiological response in the body when we get exposed to a stimulus – a stressor.


(Check out some previous information on feeling stressed in my post 1 and if you would like a little more biology, look out for the next post).


From a psychological point of view, stress (response) can be ‘positive’ - when responding to an exciting stimulus, or ‘negative’ - in exposure to an overwhelming stimulus that we feel we have no sufficient resources for.


Using a physiological lens, which is often overlooked, stress is manifested in our bodies in

a vast number of ways, causing turmoil for both, the mind and the body. Long-term exposure to stress can therefore significantly affect your mental and your physical health. (I am sure you are not surprised here!)


Stress is a complex physiological response occurring inside our bodies, so it is essential to accept that ‘our’ stress (and a process of reducing it) is purely in our ownership.  (This though, may be hard to hear…)


Manifestation of Stress in your Mind.


When you are feeling stressed, your mind loses clarity, fear takes over and reduces your cognitive capacity, your memory becomes impaired, and negative views of yourself, others, and the world will creep in creating an overall sense of being overwhelmed or feeling ‘doomed’.


Ouch! And this is only the beginning. Let’s explore what happens at the same time in the body.



Manifestation of stress in your body


When you are stressed, (depending on the levels of your stress), your body produces the stress hormone cortisol, which increases your heart rate and blood pressure, stops your digestion, your muscles get tensed, healing stops, and inflammation increases.


The above symptoms are only the start. When stress is manifested on a chronic basis, we may no longer notice these manifestations, because our bodies will integrate them as a ‘normal function’ and this is the time when our health can get significantly challenged or damaged.


A little, but important insight:

Long-term stress is equally (if not even more) dangerous than most stressors themselves!




Let’s Move on to Defining Stressors.


A stressor is solely an external provocation, situation, or a happening. Unlike stress, stressors are very rarely in our ownership, they are external, and we have very little, or no control over them.

(Commonly and collectively known examples - the world financial crisis, wars, and violence in the world, changing climate, COVID-19, weather, and so on).


You might think that all the above is plain logic, and you would be entirely right.


So, I ask, why do we get it so wrong when we try to find more inner peace away from feeling stressed? The answer is simple again - we often focus on the stressors instead of our stress.




Focus on Stressors Creates Chronic Stress!


When you try to move a ‘mountain’, change the weather, stop wars from happening in the world, or wish for the price of essentials to drop, the only outcome you reach is more stress, less energy, and a low mood.


When you get angry with a stressor (I have observed that endlessly in my therapy room), you pay attention outward to what you cannot control, which results in further feelings of powerlessness, and more stress.


Little by little, focusing on what you can’t change makes you chronically stressed, and your body becomes unwell.


To give yourself a chance for a healthier life, the only option is to productively focus inward, and identify your stress responses which, (unlike stressors), you can regulate, manage, and adjust.



Let me leave you with a food for thought with a little metaphoric analogy, you might find familiar.


…Do you remember learning to ride a bicycle? If so, you might remember worrying about losing control of your bicycle by hitting the curb or some hole in the path. The more you looked at the curbs, or holes in the path, the more your bicycle steered toward them, and most likely, you hit them then.

But when you learned to focus more on managing your bicycle, these curbs no longer caused you an issue and you grew confidence in riding…


 As you may rightly think, focusing on riding a bicycle represents in this example managing your stress, which you can grow confidence with. On the other hand, focusing on the curbs and holes (the stressors) represents a very helpless process causing a much higher risk of collision.

The choice of what you focus on is yours! Stress or stressors?

 


Join me next time to learn how to identify your body’s stress responses, and the ways to regulate them, so you can reach a more peaceful life even in this chronically stress-stimulating world.

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