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Psychology Session

Stress Physiology

Stress is the #1 killer in today's world

Stress is a multi-dimensional syndrome that can engage the entire human organism. Viewing health as a balance, an intertwined relationship between the body, mind, and spirit makes it is easy to see the impact that stress creates in our everyday lives.

Stress is the #1 killer in today's world, affecting our mental, emotional, and physical well- being. Its effects on behavior can range from depression, irritability, aggression, and the loss of sense of humor. Mentally, long-term stress may affect a person’s ability to concentrate and lead to chronic depression. Physically, this can manifest as headaches, indigestion, aches and pains, heart palpitations, heart attacks, allergies, colitis, high blood pressure, PMS, eczema, autoimmune diseases, IBS, insomnia, lethargy, or a general breakdown of good health. People, who continually push themselves beyond the warning signs of fatigue and pain, often will not stop to rest, relax, and take the time to heal until there is a major breakdown of health.

Stress can be defined as “a negative differential between a series of demands and the inability to cope with them.” The body’s response to stress will depend on the individual’s experience and coping ability. There are several factors that will gauge this outcome; level of health at the time, comfort level, hormone balance, and social and intimate support; all of these are inherent in the coping mechanism.

Long-term stress can deplete the ability to cope with even the simplest of life’s tasks and challenges.

Some of the more obvious outward manifestations of stress are encountered with relationships, money worries, and illness.

In the Chinese medicine perspective, worries deplete the earth energies of the spleen, stomach, and pancreas. This affects the ability to think clearly, and digest nourishment properly. Since the spleen is the largest lymph node in the body, this may also indirectly affect the functions of the lymphatic and immune systems.

An emerging science called Psychoneuroendoimmunology (psychological-nerves-endocrine-immune system), examines how thoughts and emotions change the kinds of messages and chemical responses experienced by the nervous and endocrine system. One of the great revelations of heart research is that modern science is proving just how closely connected the emotions are to the health and proper function of the heart.


Psychoneuroendoimmunology demonstrates that emotional states dramatically change the heart rate and function, the health of our arteries, and our immune response. Stress elevates cholesterol levels, which causes atherosclerosis, a disease in which cholesterol plaque builds up in the arteries, especially the coronary arteries. Stress also changes the hormonal balance, increasing norepinephrine and other hormones that increase the heart rate, causing the heart muscle to require greater amounts of oxygen.

Homeostasis is the body mind process of maintaining a state of harmony. This process happens on many levels, some of which are unseen and unfelt by us consciously.

Homeostatic functions are primarily governed by the nervous and endocrine system, under the guise of nerve impulses, hormones, and enzyme actions.

An example of homeostasis is thermo-regulation, the body’s ability to maintain a consistent temperature. It is somewhat like having a built-in thermostat. Other examples are hunger, which functions to keep us from starvation and fatigue, which keeps us from exhaustion

The chemistry of stress has a deep physiological impact. It is known as the “fight or flight response,” triggered by the sympathetic response of the autonomic nervous system. The fight or flight response is designed to get the body moving and out of danger. During the fight or flight response, there is an increase in the heart rate, blood pressure, blood sugar, and sensory reflexes. When danger is identified by the senses, the hypothalamus secretes a corticotrophin releasing factor (CRF) into the blood stream, which then triggers the pituitary to release a second chemical known as adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). As soon as the blood carrying the ACTH reaches the adrenal glands, they release adrenal hormones, principally adrenaline and cortisol into the bloodstream.

All of these chemicals precipitate a large number of specific changes in neural activities, tissues, and behavior.


This is fine if we find ourselves in a situation where these responses are beneficial for our safety and well-being, which may include an athletic event, sports, war, or any situation that strength, endurance, and physical output is necessary. What happens when this fight or flight response reflexes while we are sitting in a traffic jam, workplace, talking on the phone, receive a stressful letter in the mail, or eating a meal? If accompanying physical exertion, in the resulting physical confusions, cannot safely diffuse the natural responses of our body there may be an expression of exertion on a mental or emotional level that turns to anger, fear, or other detrimental emotions.

Fragrances have a proven role to play in stress management. The International Flavors and Fragrance have conducted research over several years in conjunction with stress researchers at Yale University. Fragrance-enhanced relaxation appears to be more effective than using the fragrances alone. Aromatherapy massage could be regarded as a form of fragrance-enhanced relaxation.

Creating a healthy and balanced lifestyle can help one cope and adjust to life’s stresses. Some of the ways of creating such a lifestyle include development of a positive mental attitude, choosing nourishing foods and liquids, adequate exercise or physical activity, time in the sunshine, and fresh air, deep breathing exercises, self-care, adequate rest, relaxation, meditation, and time for self.

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