stressors and health

December 9, 2013

In the human person, and other animals as well, the sources of stress are external and internal. We have been considering the external stressors which flow from our lifestyles and lived experiences. Some stress is actually useful and good for you. Take for instance, the stress of a deadline, this emotional pushing required to complete a task or prepare for an anticipated event. When we study for tests or have to work to accomplish a task this increases our level of anxiety and the associated stress response. The stress response is the same triggering of the sympathetic nervous system and its parallel release of epinephrine…but not to the degree of a major stressor or sufficient to produce illness. This form of stress would not be healthy if it were unremitting or unrelenting stress. However, the important part of this process is to see that even with an external stressor, like a deadline, the stress response is internal to us! It is our response to the deadline that is actually the stress response, NOT the deadline.

An example of an external stress over which we have no control, would be environmental stressors, chemicals, viruses, factors associated with living conditions. Generally speaking, we are unaware of these stressors, so we say we have little or no control over them. Nevertheless with greater awareness we can be cognizant of these stressors and take steps to limit or overcome them within certain abilities. Truthfully, where we live and those conditions are as much factors in our health as not. So when we think of living healthily, the suggestion is to begin limiting the external factors which contribute to our stress and impact our health.

Conversely, our internal responses to what we perceive as stress (perception is everything!!!) are more significant than the events themselves. In other words, the way we perceive what is stressful, and how we choose to respond to the stressors is as much a contributing factor to illness as it is to health. It is for this reason I work with integrative healthcare principles in couples and marriage therapy. Close living relationships succeed or fail based on our ability to perceive accurately and choose our responses rather than be compelled by habits which work against us. If the relationship is fraught with stressful events, or if we grew up in families where interactions were abusive or exceedingly stressful, then our learned responses are often unbalanced and contribute to the stress in the relationships we are trying to create.

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