Stress / Anxiety / Fear / Anger

 

Stress is the physiological and psychological drive state that occurs when one or more of our needs is currently unmet or threatened or we think that this is the case.

 

From the moment we wake up in the morning to the moment we fall asleep, we are confronted with various environmental and bodily demands that must be met in order to fulfill various human needs, including (and here I borrow from Maslow's hierarchy):

Biological and physiological needs;

Safety needs;

Belongingness and love needs;

Esteem needs;

Cognitive needs;

Aesthetic needs;

Self-actualization;

Self-transcendence.

The presence of biological and safety needs creates a drive state that is experienced both physiologically and psychologically. For example when we are hungry, we may feel irritable or even angry. This was adaptive for our ancestors whose fight or flight response when their body needed food motivated them to run after and kill stuff to eat (and run away from stuff that wasn't in the mood to be eaten).

The perception of needs beyond those necessary for survival is psychological, related to and conditioned by the social environment

Prolonged thinking about what we believe (rightly or wrongly) to be a threat to meeting our perceived needs leads to prolonged stress.

Excessive frequency, intensity and/or duration of stress can lead to what are termed anxiety disorders as well as stress-related physical illness or disease.

Anxiety disorders can involve cognitive, emotional, behavioral and physiological aspects:

Cognitive: Cognitive content can include worry/fear about negative events happening in the future. Cognitive process can include difficulty concentrating, racing thoughts and obsessing.

Emotional: We feel a level of anxiety or fear that is experientially very uncomfortable.

 

Behavioral: When we are anxious or fearful, we are in a fight/flee/freeze mode in which we may be physically fidgity, hyperactive or hyperverbal. The nervous system is activated to a level higher than necessary to respond to any actual problem, which makes it difficult to accomplish tasks at hand.

Physiological: In addition to the above happening at the time of a percieved stressor, stressful situations trigger in humans and other animals a delayed response that Hans Selye first observed in rats exposed to a "nocuous agent." He termed this the "General Adaptation Syndrome" preparing the body for what Walter Cannon termed "fight or flight." Selye identified an "alarm reaction stage" occurring from 6 to 48 hours after exposure to the stressor, with sympathetic nervous system activation (triggering adrenal cortisol and adrenaline production, body fat reduction, organ shrinkage, and a body temperature drop); a "resistance stage" about 48 hours after the event, with parasympathetic nervous system activation (in which stress hormones decrease, but there is a continued elevation of blood glucose and blood pressure); and an "exhaustion stage" with depleted energy.

Over time, stress can lead to and exacerbate illness and disease processes, such as heart disease, asthma, obesity, diabetes, headaches, gastrointestinal conditions, Alzheimer's disease, accelerated aging and premature death.

What this means, of course, is that, over time, anything that reduces stress may help to prevent these same disease processes. Which brings us back to what I call "Psychology 1.0," or Preventive Psychology  (please click link for more information).

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