How Stress Affects Your Health

David Yarian Ph.D.

What Emergency Situations Do to Our Bodies

Our bodies are wonderfully designed to rise to daunting challenges - escaping from dangerous situations by fleeing or fighting an enemy; performing feats of strength that seem impossible such as carying an injured person from a burning building; having all senses on red alert when peak performance is required, such as in an athletic competition or dealing with complex, high-stakes situations.

The body, however, is not particularly good at distinguishing between true, life-threatening emergencies and the anxieties, worries, stresses and challenges of modern life. Whether the emergency is real or perceived, the body responds as if it were a life or death situation.

The After-Effect of Stress

In working with persons suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, I have frequently seen how even the memory of a very stressful event can trigger powerful physiological responses: sweating, trembling, increased heart rate and blood pressure, faster breathing, tingling, feelings of panic, heightened sensory awareness, and more. Clients have reported digestive and bowel disruption, feeling chilled, and sleep disruption.

Since World War I, scientists have studied in detail the responses the body makes to a perceived threat. This bodily response system is called the stress response, and it was first studied in soldiers responding to combat situations. Soon researchers such as Hans Selye came to see that the stress response may be generated in the body whether the threat is physical or psychological.

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