Is suffering normal or not?”
The question is obviously rhetorical.
There are very few among us who have never experienced stress. Whether it’s a pending work deadline or an overwhelming physical threat, our body’s response to stress can be both helpful and harmful.
It seems we all know that Stress is a normal part of living. The term stress was borrowed from the field of physics, Hans Selye. In fact Hans Selye, the ‘father of stress theory’ went so far as to say “if you have no stress in your life you are dead”.
Stress manifests in three ways:
1) Stress causes changes in the normal physiological functions of the body that, if unrelieved, can lead to physical disease.
2) Stress causes feelings of distress (subjective).
3) Stress causes disturbed personal and interpersonal functioning and performance (behavioral).
Stress and soul trauma are at the root of all psychiatric disorders.
But only few of us really understand just how destructive the effects of prolonged stress can be on our overall health. Many of us just accept long-term stress as the cost of living in the 21st century. But as you will see prolonged stress comes with a steep price.
The question becomes how much are you prepared to pay?
True, stress is a squishy concept, but just because it’s amorphous doesn’t mean it’s a historical. Far from it.
Stress is a human signal to stay alert. The body’s reaction is helpful for dangerous situations. It becomes excessive when a person becomes as stressed watching a football game urging the team they favor as needed when running away from a predator.
Although the concept of stress was originally defined in terms of its physiological mechanism, human response to stress or any threat of that nature is complex.
A threat to your life or safety causes your body to undergo immediate physical changes. A chemical signal deep inside your brain speeds stress hormones through the bloodstream, preparing your body to be alert and prepared to escape danger.
This is known as the “Flight or Fight” response. You have faster reaction times, your concentration becomes more focused, and your agility and strength increase. When the stressful situation ends, hormonal signals switch off the stress response and the body returns to normal.
So stress is simply a reaction to a stimulus that disturbs our physical or mental equilibrium. In other words, it’s an omnipresent part of life. A stressful event can trigger the “fight-or-flight” response, causing hormones such as adrenaline and Cortisol to surge through the body.
In physics, stress describes the force that produces strain on a physical body (i.e.: bending a piece of metal until it snaps occurs because of the force, or stress, exerted on it).
Hans Selye began using the term stress after completing his medical training at the University of Montreal in the 1920’s. He noticed that no matter what his hospitalized patients suffered from, they all had one thing in common. They all looked sick. In his view, they all were under physical stress.
He proposed that stress was a non-specific strain on the body caused by irregularities in normal body functions. This stress resulted in the release of stress hormones.
As humans we have two opposing hormone responses to stimuli.
The fight or flight hormones are adrenaline or Cortisol which speed up the heart rate and create the hyper alert energy state which empowers you to immediately act your way out of danger.
The primary area of the brain that deals with stress is the limbic system. Because of its enormous influence on emotions and memory, the limbic system is often referred to as the emotional brain. It is also called the mammalian brain, because it emerged with the evolution with our warm-blooded relatives, and marked the beginning of social cooperation in the animal kingdom.
When Cortisol levels remain high for extended periods of time it begins to breakdown non-essential organs and tissues in order to maintain high levels of glucose in the blood and continue to feed the vital organs. These high levels of stress hormones will cause high blood pressure, chronic anxiety, weight gain (especially around the waist), depression, weakened immunity, mental and physical fatigue, toxin buildup, heart disease, emotional overreaction.
Cortisol is the brain’s emergency chemical. It is released in humans, animals and even reptiles in the face of a survival threat. The point behind Cortisol is to make us feel uncomfortable. This is important because it motivates us to move towards comfort:
Cortisol is often experienced in the form of stress, anger and even pain. Cortisol always gets our attention because our brain is constantly striving to avoid stress.
The sense memories of physical and emotional discomforts are stored in a part of the brain called the amygdala. It is normal to want to rid ourselves of these bad feelings. When we see or feel bad things associated with past physical and emotional pain, Cortisol is triggered to prepare us to do whatever it takes to avoid more of those feelings.
Big bursts of Cortisol is what we call “fear”. Smaller bursts, anxiety. These bad feelings tell us we are in immediate danger. Our cortex then tries to figure out what the danger is. It’s a matter of survival.
Our bodies then send electricity down various pathways to the unconscious memories bank in the amygdala to connect with past memories for understanding.
The problem is we often deal with stress mentally, and never respond to stress with physical activity that would burn the extra energy provided by the Cortisol surge. Whether your stress was emotional or physical, the stress response is identical, causing a spike in your appetite. This can cause a craving for comfort foods-foods high in fat and sugar.
It is our waist cells that are most responsive to the effects of Cortisol fat promoting activity.
Researchers have found that the causes of being obese or overweight are not simply the result of overeating or lack of physical activity. Excessive and prolonged stress can cause the body to produce too much Cortisol, which can play a role in craving “comfort” foods, overeating, and feeling fatigued, and storing excess body fat.
The good news is our body has a built in mechanism to counter all these negative conditions with the anti-stress effects of oxytocin. This hormone of love or sometimes called the cuddle hormone increases feelings of love. It promotes eye contact, touching, stroking, cuddling, cooing or mother speak and promotes emotional bonding. It is also the hormone responsible for lactation and labor.
We dream of a life with no bad feelings, and a world in which everything that makes us feel bad is gone and this is oxytocin’s job. Just as Cortisol motivates us to do what it takes to eliminate the bad feeling. Oxytocin works to regulate it. It sends messages to the amygdala to calm the production of Cortisol down.
Cortisol is good at triggering oxytocin whose job is to dial it down. In that sense we need unhappy chemicals like Cortisol to steer us away from threats and away from over reacting to threats.
If you expect to eliminate unhappy chemicals from your life, you are likely to be disappointed. You are better off accepting the part that unhappy chemicals play in human life. Cortisol shows us the pain but oxytocin (along with endorphins) helps us to both mask and mitigate pain.
If accepting unhappy chemicals like Cortisol sounds unpleasant, consider the alternative. Rejecting your unhappy chemicals leaves you unhappy about being unhappy. It’s a vicious cycle of unhappy chemicals.
The alternative is to accept your brain’s urge to warn you about things similar to past threats. Some of those threats will be real and some won’t, and you can’t always predict correctly. It’s a survival need. Survival challenges are not evidence that something has gone wrong with the world.
Environment provides man with certain harsh incentives and demands, which, as long as their intensity and frequency are within the limits of human tolerance, can stimulate his motivation and enhance his productivity.
However, when these environmental demands become excessive or, conversely, when they become scarce, the balance of incentives for creativity will be upset and as a result neither the excess nor the absence of these stimuli will be compatible with and conducive to a healthy adaptation in life.
In evolutionary terms we are in are, in a sense, ‘behind’ our current reality i.e. most of us are no longer being chased by wild animals. Ironically many of us elicit that same fight or flight stress reaction to a PC virus or when we are cut off in traffic or we have an issue with a friend etc. Yet we do not need to run from or attack the virus in your PC…you get the point.
But, while the belief that “hard-work-equals-reward” has always been firmly lodged in the American psyche; we’ve now reached a point where being stressed has become synonymous with being successful. But, working stressed is not the same as working smart, yet we assume that the more hours we put in, the more accomplished we are.
True, a little bit of stress, known as “acute stress,” can be exciting—it keeps us active and alert. The irony of the stress response is that it evolved in physical environments very different from the social and psychological ones of today. Instead of being stalked by a saber-toothed tiger, today it’s a tailgating SUV, approaching final exam, or the terrorist alert level rising to orange.
Since the turn of the twentieth century, social consciousness of life stress has risen dramatically, particularly in the Western world, and stress and anxiety have become common terms.
With today’s fast paced lifestyle, stress often doesn’t let up. Many of us now constantly experience anxiety and worry about work, relationships, money, the economy, college expenses, and job security-among others.
As a result, the stress hormones produced by our body in anticipation of physical harm or threat continues to wash through the system in high levels, never leaving the blood and tissues.
So, the stress response that gave our ancestors the speed and endurance to escape life-threatening dangers runs constantly in many modern people and never shuts down.
Even non-physical related stress like relationship problems, job related problems, family problems increase Cortisol levels. The body has only one response to stress and that is to produce more Cortisol and adrenaline. So, if you are faced with a grizzly bear charging right at you or a husband who is constantly devaluing you, the body reacts with the exact same stress hormones.
Your heart pounds, chest heaves, muscles tighten. Senses sharpen; time slips into slow motion, and you become impervious to pain. Under certain conditions, this would be an appropriate healthy reaction, because now you are prepared to do battle. The trouble is, however, that you are probably still sitting in your car or at your desk – stewing in your own juices.
And the long-term, or “chronic stress,” can have detrimental effects on our health.
It is estimated that between 85% and 90% of all illness is stress induced. Quite clearly the process of disease and dysfunction originates in Stage Two of the General Adaptation Syndrome or, as we also refer to it, the Stress Response.
However, the determining factor of which type of disease will ensue is genetically determined and is a function of the memories within our own unique genome.
How does all of this relate to the most pressing problems of our time – violence amongst children and the apparent deadening of the human soul?
This creates an environment where being busy makes us feel important and a long to-do list is a valuable assurance that we are contributing to our families, offices, and communities. As a result, we wear our busyness like a badge of honor and measure daily accomplishments by how much got checked off The List. To some extent, taking downtime is considered lazy.
It seems that stress has become America’s newest status symbol.
When we’re not busy being stressed, we’re busy talking about how stressed we are. As women, we often bond by swapping stories about how unbelievably hectic our lives are. TV, movies, and Facebook bragging further amplify discussions of stress, generally reinforcing the cultural norm that all the cool kids are doing it. Trading tales of crazy schedules has become so normal that it’s easy to engage without noticing, but these types of conversations can be more competitive than cathartic. No matter how much we did in a day, it can still feel like we’re not keeping up with other superwomen.
So we are continually adding to a pool of stress that we learn to live with.
Chronic stress can be caused by illness, anxiety over financial matters, social crises, or emotional instability. Almost anything that causes physical or emotional pain can produce a stress response. If the source of stress is not resolved, chronic stress can result. Chronic stress can cause weight gain, fatigue, muscle weakness and mental exhaustion.
As science gains greater insight into the consequences of stress on the brain, the picture that emerges is not a pretty one. A chronic overreaction to stress overloads the brain with powerful hormones that are intended only for short-term duty in emergency situations. Their cumulative effect damages and even kills brain cells.
For centuries, Western science and philosophy have placed a wedge between the mind and body. Today, as paradigms shift, leaders in various fields of science are learning that, indeed, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts that, in fact, there is no separation between the mind, the body and the spirit.
Once described merely as wear and tear on the body, stress is now best defined as “a disconnection from our divine source.” Times of stress may bring feelings of panic and mayhem, but stress also provides the opportunity for spiritual growth—when we call upon our inner resources (faith, patience, humbleness, intuition, courage, humor and compassion) to dismantle life’s major roadblocks so that we may walk in balance on the human path.
In day-to-day life the art of mastering stress and coping with life disturbances remains a challenge for everyone whether child or adult. In our very busy lives and highly stressful jobs and family circumstances we may even experience a dysfunction of this complex fight and flight response.
When we look at our species collectively and recognize the immensity of the stress being experienced on that scale, we must understand that there are moments of relief from the stress as well. There are things which occur which are an unconscious means to relieving the stress, if only for a little while.
On the global front, these stress relievers tend to be events, which are catastrophic, destructive, and painful. Unaware that collectively we are going through what some might term a ‘dark night of the soul’, unaware of both the cause and the extent of our stress, our collective unconscious creates something to relieve the stress.
Add to this tension a lack of awareness of the state of affairs in which we are immersed and confusion about what is real and what is not, and we have a set-up for the horrific shootings which occurred in Newtown Connecticut: a young man who, it’s been discovered, could not easily discern what was real and what was not; a fantastical plot in a violent movie; explosions which are, themselves, release of pressure. These ingredients – and others – combined to result in an incident, which highlights symbolically this Dark (K) night of our human soul.
Most people want only to see justice done, and of course, justice must be achieved. Yet it’s important that we begin to understand the dynamics, which have led to this incident and others like it.
There is an ancient Chinese proverb that speaks to the nature of human existence, and underscores the importance of finding balance in our lives. It reads, “Stand like mountain, move like water.”
To stand like a mountain means to feel strong and secure in the midst of change. To move like water means to go with the flow. In times such as these where change is ever present in the global culture, balance is necessary to stay grounded, centered, and connected.
It’s no secret that we are living in a time of great stress.
Times of change bring with it stress.
But, we need to remember that there is a delicate balance between health, or lack of it, of body, mind and soul. The three are intertwined and so closely interdependent that what affects one, affects all three.
Because of this what affects the soul will also affect mind and body.
Stress, caused by an imbalance between environmental demands and the coping resources of the individual, is a threat – and sometimes a killer – of body, mind and soul.
Extreme stress, facilitated by negative energies, causes breaks at the point of the weakest links in our genetic and experiential memories which respond by communicating messages of imbalance to all systems and functions of the body and mind.
The changes in chemistry and function that accompany psychiatric disorders are not the cause, but rather the consequence of the changes in the body and brain chemistry that result from stressors that cause injury to emotion and soul.
The type of psychiatric disorder that will manifest from soul trauma is determined genetically, for the reason that, at some point in the lives of our familial ancestors, they reacted to soul stress in a way that stressed the capacity of particular genes that control emotions and behavior.
If these weakened genes and their altered energy find no surcease from their fragility in succeeding generations or are assaulted from further trauma, they will continue to manifest as soul dysfunction and psychiatric disorder depending on a critical level of environmental stress that will increase their dysfunctional energy in those who carry them.
When we humans are stressed but, in our less-conscious state, not aware that we are so very stressed, we adopt behaviors, which relieve that stress. We medicate ourselves. We indulge in addictive patterns and behaviors. We fill every moment with activity. We find any way we can to feel relief.
But, these do not bring long-term benefit but, for a brief moment, they do make us feel better.
The pattern is: stress, then relief.
The average person may experience 30-50 stress events a day, some small and some big, which then activates the body’s fight and flight response. This prepares
the body to either fight or run away from the stressor.
Most people are so accustomed (i.e. adapt) to the feelings of stress they don’t recognize the harm it is inflicting until it’ s too late.
Usually, when faced with a stressful life event, particularly one, which will threaten the bond of an intimate relationship, an individual’s needs for affection and his affiliation with the social support system increase.
Similarly, the person’s sensitivity to rejection or any threat of that nature will rise.
The affected individual, depending on his childhood experiences, education and personal resources, may tend to become more suggestible and show a higher degree of compliance to the demands of others. As a result of these experiences, the individual under stress may move toward a stronger integration and involvement in the life of the family and community.
If the community is well integrated and sensitive to his needs for support, it will respond with a greater measure of caring and sharing. The result is the strengthening of the bond of unity within the family or community. However, if the person’s hope for a positive response is denied, they may alienate themselves from others.
There are some individuals that seem to be stress resistant and stress tough. They appear to be balanced, happy, creative, resourceful and strong, even when faced with multiple psychosocial stressors and difficult situations.
The stress resistant and stress tough person is psychologically strong, has a positive attitude and purpose, keeps life in perspective, has a good sense of personal control and lives well. In short, the stress resistance characteristics seem to serve as a buffer against stress and help to rebound quickly from difficulties.
Let’s be clear. Stress is a stranger to no one.
Life is a vehicle to teach self-love. When a situation is viewed from a different perspective life becomes a game of insight. There is no longer stress rehashing a slight perception. You view the comment from an awareness of looking for self-discovery.
To manage stress, the perception is derived from the spiritual realm. Human glasses generally distort the reality of a situation. With this viewpoint, one assumes they comprehend what another is thinking and feeling. But, they are mirroring their own beliefs creating scenarios in the mind that are imagined.
Human love comes with conditions. God’s love has no conditions. The Human’s perception is one of stress. The soul’s choice is the freedom with love as the fuel for life.
Only when one loves reality is there comprehension.
When you are able to view life through the awareness of this joint partnership Life becomes less stressful and more aware of the now time. Instead of the belief you are — you — instead of the belief you go into combat against reality there is the awareness of unfolding into the acceptance of more self love.
This is not the human narcissistic form. This is the freedom to expose the heart for more spiritual love.
The human vessel is but a coat to cover the soul while it learns lessons about the creator’s essence. This vibration is of the purest form.
The soul’s goal is to merge with this frequency. This takes eons.
You may not be able to control the stressors in your world. Life is difficult, unknowable and often harrowing but you can alter your reaction to it.
Just as preventive medicine makes sense, so does preemptive action to relieve stress.
The number one action should always be to decrease stress in your life.
Live and Learn. We All Do.
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