What is it and what causes it?
Factors Affecting Response
Although we can talk in general terms about physiological and
psychological response patterns, we should remember that these patterns are by
no means fixed. For each one of us, the pattern of response to stress is
determined by many factors, some of which are listed below.
Stress and Illness
- Previous experience: Once we have experienced a particular stressful
situation, we are usually able to cope better with it if it comes up again. The
experience provides us with knowledge about the situation and puts us in a more
predictable position. We are more aware of how our behavior will affect a
potentially stressful environment and how we will be affected by it. For
example, the second visit to a doctor is usually easier than the first.
- Information: Information about an impending stressful event allows us
to make preparations that will ease the impact and intensity of our reactions
to the stress. It is well known, for example, that describing surgical
procedures and typical post-operative reactions, including pain, to patients
can often aid recovery. However, personality differences must be taken into
account. People differ radically in their response to the stresses associated
- Individual differences: Some people try to protect themselves from
the full impact of the stress by denying, playing down, or emotionally
detaching themselves from the situation. Providing information to these people
may actually increase their stress levels, rather than decreasing them.
- Social support: Not surprisingly, the impact of stressful events is
affected by our social systems. Support and empathy from others greatly softens
the degree of reaction to stress, especially when we are young and our patterns
of behavior, response, and perception are developing. It seems that
insufficient early social support can give rise to physical and behavioral
problems, including a reduced ability to withstand stress. Response to stress
can be eased by support from either the family or the community. For example,
the recovery of patients from strokes can be significantly affected by the
understanding and empathy shown by their families or friends, and studies have
shown that women who have close, confiding relationships are less likely to
develop stress-related psychiatric problems. It is not surprising, then, that
the loss of a close relationship, which represents a sudden and severe loss of
support, is rated among the most stressful of all life events. It says a lot
about our rational and analytical approach to life that research is needed in
order for the medical profession to acknowledge that caring and support are
vital parts of the healing process. Our humanity should tell us that!
- Control: The degree to which we believe we can control a situation
has an important impact on the degree to which that situation is likely to
cause us stress. Research has shown that the most harmful and distressing
situations are those in which we feel entirely helpless, believing that nothing
we can do will significantly alter the outcome. This is a good reason to take
power and information away from the "experts" and put it in the hands of people
like you and me, thereby restoring our sense of control. It is also the reason
why this book focuses on herbs and other stress fighting allies that we can use
ourselves, rather than relying on the diagnostic powers and prescriptions of
others. The need to take back responsibility for our own well being becomes
acute when we realize that the tremendous progress made in the medical sciences
in recent years has not brought with it any significant improvement in our
overall health. In fact, the incidence of some diseases is on the increase.
Heart problems, digestive maladies, and mental disturbances are striking people
in their thirties, forties, and fifties. The underlying cause of many of the
diseases that are common today is undoubtedly stress.
Statistical studies have shown a clear association between increased
incidence of disease and the presence of one or more of the following
- Social Class: Many of the common fatal illnesses tend to occur with
higher incidence in the "lower" social classes. The reasons for this are not
fully understood, but probably revolve around such factors as diet, housing
conditions, employment/unemployment, and quality of medical care. In addition,
a feeling of security, financial and otherwise-is basic to any sense of well
being. A sense of personal power and control over one's own life are as
important to our health as is a good diet.
- Occupation: Some types of work, as well as the physical and social
attributes of the work environment, are associated with higher levels of
physiological and psychological illness. The factors known to be involved
- Shift work, because of the disruption of circadian rhythms and social
- Long hours (75 hours per week or more).
- Physically adverse conditions, such as cramped or noisy quarters &
- Changes in work environment, e.g. to a different line of work or level
of responsibility. More heart attacks occur in the year following such
- Boring, repetitive work, which can produce increases in frequency of
depression, sleep disturbances, and stomach disorders.
- Responsibility and deadline pressures, which can result in a higher risk
of conditions such as high blood pressure and ulcers.
About The Author
Whilst working in conservation and lecturing in ecology and the eco-crisis for the University of Wales, David Hoffman became convinced that to heal the world, to embrace planetary wholeness and responsibility for it with hope, he as an individual had to be whole within himself....more