Stress and coping: a process
Somatic Psychology: Stress
August 12th, 2014
Stress and coping: a process
The idea of stress is one that we, those of us in the American culture, live with all the time. There is a sense that multitasking and always coping with “more” is a sign of success. This is simply not a healthy way to live. In fact given the human capacity to extrapolate ideas we don’t even need to have anything actually stressful happening to activate ourselves. Instead, as noted by Sapolsky, “we can turn on the stress-response by thinking about potential stressors that may throw us out of homeostatic balance far in the future” (Sapolsky, 1998, P.7). This means that unlike animals in a natural setting we can stress ourselves into illness with just the idea of future problems. That idea, the constant nature of stress, is part what the following paper will address. The other element of the paper will consist of a discussion of an ongoing stress and activation log I have maintained. The intention of this log is twofold. First I am tracking what sets off my stress response and second I am tracking the value of applying “mindfulness” as a somatic stress reduction tool. In all what follows is a glimpse into the way stress exists in my life, how applying a new management tool helped, and what I think it all means to me. What is stress?
A question that must be answered is “what is stress?” The National Institute of Mental Health says that stress is “the brain's response to any demand” (NIMH, 2014) which is a simple statement that has tremendous ramifications. As we are, at nearly all times, under a demand of one sort or another. But Stress is more than that, as it is also a physiological process. As discussed in our reading the process of stress is not event specific, but rather a generalized response by our nervous system to certain chemicals produced when we are activated. That activation can be a Bear charging us, or a paper that is due, or anything that causes the Sympathetic Nervous system to engage. Because the body only has one set of tools for the response the content, or context, or the “threat” is almost irrelevant. It’s not relevant because the result, the body’s response, is the same as “your blood pressure increases, your heart beats faster, and digestions slows down” (Reader, pp.2). However since our modern stressors are not fleeting, we never out run the bear because the “bear” is just our boss at work, our system does not manage itself well anymore. Our nervous system activates and then stays activated, we never reach the “rest and digest” side of the equation, which is detrimental to both physical and emotional health over time. The detrimental effects of stress over time
Our body’s inability to tell the difference between a life threatening event and a traffic jam means that a system designed to save us is instead killing us. This process of response which can be thought of as “unresolved survival-related tendencies” (Ogden, et al, Trauma and the Body, 2006, P. 26) is where we get into trouble. Our “fight or flight” response is a finely tuned emergency reaction system, built over a millennia of evolution, which is now poorly adapted for our current living style. As noted in the reading even the most recent and sophisticated of our arousal system is ill equipped to handle the daily levels of stress we live with. Living with this unresolved activation can cause “atrophy in a part of the brain called the hippocampus” (Reader, pp. 9) which affects memory. Continued exposure to the chemical soup that stress releases can impact our immune system, and make us susceptible to “upper respiratory infections” (Reader, pp.9) and it can lead to weight gain, heart problems, and a litany of other health issues. As that is the case finding a useful tool for mitigating the impact of stress is important. Mindfulness: an applied model of stress reduction
To that end I have been practicing Mindfulness. The...
References: Davis, D. M., & Hayes, J. A. (2011). What are the benefits of mindfulness? A practice review of psychotherapy-related research. Psychotherapy, 48, 198–208. doi:10.1037/a0022062
Sapolsky, R. (1994). Why zebras don 't get ulcers: A guide to stress, stress related diseases, and coping. New York: W.H. Freeman.
SPC5512 Reader (Various authors) Somatic Psychology Perspectives on Stress and Psychbioimmunology. PP. 2 – 9
Ogden, et al, Trauma and the Body, 2006, P. 26
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