Understanding Stress

Let's pretend for a moment that you have crash landed in a remote jungle. You are all alone with no weapon. You have removed the radio from the wreckage and are trying to signal for help when suddenly you hear the roar of a lion behind you. Instantly, your nervous system responds to a danger signal. The sympathetic portion of the involuntary nervous system becomes highly active. The adrenals secrete adrenalin or epinephrine and noradrenalin or norepinephrine. These hormones cause the heart rate, blood pressure and body metabolism to speed up. Blood flow to the arms and legs is increased and the liver begins to convert stored glycogen into glucose. All this occurs in a split second as you jump into the wreckage and slam the door to escape being eaten. Now that's stress! Pew of us encounter any real lions and tigers and hears in the course of our lives, but in case we ever do, our body is equipped with a marvelous defense mechanism- the fight/ flight response. This instinctive pre-wiring in our nervous system is activated any time we sense danger. It gears our body to do one of two things-fight off the danger or flee from it. We have all experienced the activation of this defense mechanism many times in our lives. If you've ever had someone startle you, you will remember feeling a surge of energy race through your body as you jumped. That was the fight/flight response at work. This important defense system can damage our health when it is constantly evoked unnecessarily and the energy released by it is not dispelled by fighting or fleeing. Unfortunately, our nervous system doesn't differentiate between a physical threat and an emotional threat. Thus, screaming kids, a critical boss, unpaid bills, traffic jams, missed deadlines and a host of other mental/emotional crises can be perceived by our nervous system as a form of danger. If we permit it, these situations can invoke our fight/flight response, too. However, unlike real danger, these emotional threats require no physical action. We're unlikely to physically flee from our unpaid bills or fight our critical boss. These perceived emotional threats can also remain with us day after day winding our body up into a more and more tensed state. Finally, we can't take it anymore. We explode. We yell at our spouse, spank our kids and kick our dog.

This is called emotional stress. There is no doubt that prolonged emotional stress can lead to a breakdown of health. In fact, emotional stress has been linked to It of the following disease conditions(1).

1. High blood pressure
2. Heart disease
3. Blood vessel disorders
4. Diseases of the kidney.
5. Eclampsia
6. Rheumatic and rheumatoid arthritis
7. Inflammatory diseases of skin and eyes
8. Infections
9. Allergy
10. Nervous and mental disease
11. Sexual derangements
12. Digestive disease
13. Metabolic disease
14. Cancer
15. Diseases of resistance

Or course, emotional stress is not the only factor involved in these illnesses, nor is it necessarily the primary cause. It is, however, one of the risk factors associated with all these forms of illness. In addition to these health factors, stress also contributes to a deterioration in human relations. When we are stressed we are more likely to sulk, lose our temper or engage in other anti-social behaviour.

There are many ways to deal with stress, and certainly the subject is far beyond the scope of this article. Here, however, area few of the strategies people can use for reducing the stress in their lives.

1. Exercise

Since stress gears the body up to fight or flee and only becomes a negative when it is not released, exercise is a valuable means of coping with stress. The pent-up energies we feel being bombarded with mental dangers all day long can be taken out by beating a ball, pounding the pavement or otherwise obtaining vigorous physical activity.

2. Meditation and relaxation techniques

Various meditation and relaxation techniques can help reduce stress because they teach a person how to activate the parasympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system directly counters the actions of the sympathetic nervous system, which is the system activated under stress. Many people have found they are able to better face the stresses of life by taking a few minutes each day to consciously relax.

The basic elements of a meditation or relaxation technique are: a quiet environment, something to dwell upon, a passive attitude and a comfortable position. There are numerous books that teach these techniques, available in almost any bookstore.

3. Improved nutrition

When we feel good, we can take things in stride. When we are tired or sick, we are more likely to feel threatened by minor problems. Good nutrition can contribute to our feeling of well-being, thus helping us to cope better with the problems of life. Since the stress reaction also alters our metabolic process, it can increase the need for certain nutrients. For example, an increased metabolic rate means an increased rate in the burning of carbohydrates. When larger than normal amounts of carbohydrates are metabolized, the requirements for thiamine and other members of the B-complex family may be increased(2). It is also interesting to note that Dr. Lind, who first proposed the use of lime juice to prevent scurvy in sailors, had noted a link between diet and stress. He observed that not all sailors developed scurvy, despite of their diet. So he recommended lime juice, not only for the prevention of scurvy, but also for avoidance of tension and psychological stress(3). Stress is also related to nutrition because the fight/flight response steps up the metabolic process which also steps up the need for certain vitamins, particularly the water-soluble vitamins which must be replenished on a daily basis. This is why the B-complex and C vitamins are the core of all anti-stress vitamin supplements. Nature's Sunshine Products offers a quality B-complex and C vitamin supplement called Stress Formula which is this month's feature product.

4. Attitude changes

Of course, it must be realized that our own attitude plays a critical role in determining our stress level. We have all noted that some individuals seem to be able to stay calm and cheerful under great pressure, while others "blow apart" at the slightest upset. If we have a strong self-image, an "I can do it" attitude and a feeling of love and tolerance for others, then we do not perceive as many threats to our well-being in the world around us. A positive attitude must be cultivated. Negative feelings and conversations must be replaced by uplifting ones. The easiest way to accomplish this is to improve our mental diet. Eliminate most television (TV programming has been referred to as "a vast wasteland"), newspaper reading (most news is depressing) and cheap literature. Fill your mind with uplifting thoughts by reading motivating literature; Scriptures, PMA books, great literature, non-fiction, etc. Just as it takes some effort to change our diet from 'junk food" to wholesome food, it also takes effort to change our thinking patterns from negative trash to positive gems. It's worth the effort, though.

5. Other helps

Of course these are not the only approaches to coping with stress. There are other techniques which people have found helpful. These include yoga, biofeedback and hobbies. Many people have found prayer to be of great help. Certainly, using drugs like tranquilizers and alcohol will never help. Neither will trying to escape our problems in television, novel reading or sleeping. Blaming problems on others, doesn't help either. Stress can be managed and reduced. If you or someone you know is having problems coping, there are many tools available that can help. Obtain a couple of good books on the subject (like those listed in the bibliography) and read them. Improve your nutritional program, practice relaxation techniques, exercise and improve your mental diet. Take charge of your problems and master them. All these things will make it easier for you to cope.


1. David R. Frew, Management of Stress (Chicago :Nelson-Hall, 1977) p. 57-58

2. Arthur C. Guyton, Textbook of Medical Physiology (Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders Company), 1981), p. 907.

3. Rudolph Ballentine, M.D., Diet and Nutrition: a Holistic Approach (Honesdale, Pennsylvania: The Himalayan lnternational lnstitute,1978). p. 521.


Benson, Herbert. The Relaxation Response. New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1975

Bricklin, Mark, ed. The Practical Encyclo­pedia of Natural Healing. Emmaus, PA: Rodale Press, 1983.

Frew, David R. Management of Stress. Chicago: Nelson-Hall 1977.

Shames, Richard and Sterin, Chuck. Healing with Mind Power. Emmaus, PA: Rodale Press, 1978.

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