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Stress
What is it and what causes it?

© David L. Hoffmann BSc (Hons), MNIMH

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.

  • 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 with illness.
  • 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.
Stress and Illness
Statistical studies have shown a clear association between increased incidence of disease and the presence of one or more of the following factors.
  • 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 include:
    • Shift work, because of the disruption of circadian rhythms and social life.
    • Long hours (75 hours per week or more).
    • Physically adverse conditions, such as cramped or noisy quarters & bad lighting.
    • 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 changes.
    • 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.
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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
 
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Disclaimer: The information provided on HealthWorld Online is for educational purposes only and IS NOT intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek professional medical advice from your physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.