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Understanding Stress: The Good and the Bad

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Stress, when experienced in moderation, is a beneficial and useful tool that helps us to survive. However, these days it seems that instead of experiencing stress in moderation, for many people, it has become a constant state of being.

I think most of us are aware that stress is not good for our health, but it’s important to understand many health issues on a deeper level, to fully grasp its effect on our health. Let’s take a moment here to really understand the nature of stress and how it both positively and negatively impacts our health and well being.

Many people think of stress as a bad thing, but like most of our natural instincts and reactions, stress is a reaction that is intended to keep us safe.

Stress is a part of our body’s fight or flight response, the instinctual response to stressful situations that, in the caveman days, would require us to either fight or get ourselves out of there in order to live!

During the fight or flight stress response, hormones like adrenaline, noradrenaline, and cortisol get released into our bloodstream and our bodies begin to undergo some physical changes.

According to the Mind/Body Education Center, “our respiratory rate increases. Blood is shunted away from our digestive tract and directed into our muscles and limbs, which require extra energy and fuel for running and fighting.”

Other changes include: dilated pupils, intensified awareness, sharper eyesight and impulses, decreased perception of pain, and increased activation of the immune system.

Our bodies are in attack mode, thinking we have to be on the lookout for danger or threats. This means that instead of being open and receptive, we are closed off and on guard, ready for an attack.

If you’re like over half of Americans, you may be concerned about the levels of stress that you experience in your everyday life.

Being in a constant state of stress increases your risk for heart disease, sleep issues, depression, obesity, digestive issues, memory problems, and aggravation of skin conditions, like eczema.

According to the American Psychology Association poll, 60 percent of Americans reported feeling angry and irritable because of stress, while 48 percent reported overeating or making poor diet choices due to stress.

In America, stress is on the rise, and because stress can be so harmful to our health, it’s that much more important to have tools to help us relax!

Later this week, I’ll be talking about the relaxation response and a deep relaxation technique called autogenic training.


Neimark, N. (n.d.). The Fight or Flight Response. The Body/Soul Connection Newsletter. Retrieved October 5, 2011, from http://www.thebodysoulconnection.com/EducationCenter/fight.html

Stress Statistics | Natural Wellness Care for a Better You!. (n.d.). Reclaim a Life of Wellness & Vitality | Natural Wellness Care. Retrieved October 5, 2011, from

MD Staff. (2010, September 11). Stress: Constant stress puts your health at risk - MayoClinic.com. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved October 5, 2011, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/stress

Reviewed October 10, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

Add a Comment3 Comments

Stress negatively affects intestinal flora. In turn, unhealthy gut bacteria can cause depression. (Stress affects the balance of bacteria in the gut and immune response, Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, Neurogastroenterology & Motility March 2011; 23(3); 255–e119)

The solution: probiotics. Hey! That's a PNI thing!

October 13, 2011 - 11:29am

Wow! That's really interesting, I had never heard of the Buteyko method. I tried it, and I'm surprised about how little I can hold it for! I'll definitely look more into it, thanks!

October 12, 2011 - 7:09pm

The simplest measure of stress is to check how long you can comfortably hold your breath after a normal outbreath when at rest. It is called the control pause (CP) and was devised by a Russian doctor Professor Konstantin Buteyko who spent his entire life researching chronic hidden hyperventilation, the very common consequence of modern stress. For more info on this check out Buteyko Method on Google. Meanwhile if your CP is over 45 seconds you are one of the very few healthy breathers, if it is under 20 seconds you will almost certainly be suffering the ill effects of over-breathing or hyperventilation. Every asthmatic, hypertensive, panic attack sufferer, sleep apnoea sufferer etc is breathing two to three times more air per minute than normal, that's the major cause of their illness! Where did this chronic hidden hyperventilation come from? The fight/flight resonse to repeared stressors.

October 10, 2011 - 5:02pm
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