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Stress: symptom of a modern age? - Part 1

Major Stress Reaction - Part 2

Stress symptoms - Part 3

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Major stress reaction: what you were designed for


In the first couple of minutes of you responding to a stressor – that lion again – your auto-response system makes rapid changes in your body, gearing you for flight (which might be a better idea if the lion is large and undomesticated!) or fight.

At the first press of the stress button (you see or hear the lion), your adrenaline starts to flow and continues to do so for about two minutes. Adrenaline is wonderful stuff and temporarily turns you into a survival machine. And that's just the start.

Turning into a survival machine

The lion is coming closer. Your breathing becomes short, high in the chest and rapid – just the way it needs to be for running at your fastest. Your skin produces sweat, and your palms become sweaty so that they will have better grip when the sweat dries off. Your heart beats faster to send more blood and oxygen surging around the body – again to help the anticipated exercise involved in fleeing a super feline attack.

This is all well and good, but your stress response doesn't just 'switch on' functions like quicker breathing. Any functions not crucial for fending off lions get automatically 'switched off' during the emergency.

Stress switches off some of your functions.

Fleeing a lion is a short term survival crisis, so many of your long term survival functions are not required during the emergency. Stuff inside you that gets switched off includes:

  • Digestion and salivation Eating is long term survival. You really don't need to be eating lunch whilst trying to avoid being lunch. Blood flow gets shunted away from your stomach and your mouth gets dry.

  • Sex drive You don't need to be sexually excited when fleeing a lion (trust me it won't help!). So sex drive gets switched off during the stressful episode.

  • Immune response You don't need to be fighting off little pathogens in your blood stream when fighting off a lion in your back garden, so your immune response takes a break.

  • Intelligence You don't need to be a smart intellectual and learning new things when under attack, so the thinking brain takes a back seat.

  • Growth hormone You don't need to be repairing damaged skin and bones whilst fighting off the unwanted advances of the super feline so, yes, you guessed it, growth hormone takes a back seat.

"Wait!" I hear you cry, "These adaptive and (in the short term) essential adaptive responses sound suspiciously like the very symptoms of long term stress!"

Now you’re getting it.

Next, Stress symptoms

Back to Anxiety, Panic and Stress articles

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Mark Tyrrell
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