Several short stories about stress

Sev­er­al short sto­ries about stress — a way to look art stress that will help you to find your way and to let go of hurt­ing yourself.

First of all, it’s all about stress!

Stress is our nat­ur­al state.

Here’s an exam­ple: think about a guy-wire on a tent. There is the weight of the tent pulling inward. There is the post, dri­ven into the ground, using physics and earth ener­gy to pull in the oppo­site direc­tion. In between the two stretch­es the thin guy-wire. Prop­er­ly adjust­ed, the forces that would cause the tent to col­lapse or be torn apart are brought into balance.

OK. So what? Well, does­n’t it strike you that most peo­ple are not look­ing for a bal­ance between com­pet­ing forces, but rather are look­ing for “no ten­sion at all?”

To car­ry my illus­tra­tion fur­ther, let’s assume the post in the ground is “the way things are” and the tent rep­re­sents “the winds of change.”

  • With­out the pull of change, the post is just a post in the ground. We can reflect on it and won­der as to its pur­pose, but there it is, doing, being nothing.
  • The tent, with­out ground­ing from the post, will actu­al­ly fall down and blow away. It is actu­al­ly not a tent, but sim­ply a piece of can­vas. It only becomes a tent when put under tension.

As it is with all tents. As it is with life. Not change for change’s sake. Not dull rou­tine. Life is lived ful­ly only under the ten­sion of change.

There is some truth to the idea that “If it was­n’t for my stress, I’d fall apart.”

The Flavours of Stress — short stories about stress

Cana­di­an Hans Selye, con­sid­ered the “father” of mod­ern stress research, defined stress as:

“the non-specific response of the body to any demand made upon it.”

He also said that stress is:

  • the wear and tear caused by life.
  • a state man­i­fest­ed by a spe­cif­ic syn­drome of bio­log­i­cal events and can be both pleas­ant and unpleasant.
  • the mobi­liza­tion of the body’s defens­es that allow human beings to adapt to hos­tile or threat­en­ing events.
  • dan­ger­ous when it is undu­ly pro­longed, comes too often, or con­cen­trates on one par­tic­u­lar organ of the body.

Stress is not:

  • Ner­vous tension.
  • The dis­charge of hor­mones from the adren­al glands.
  • The influ­ence of some neg­a­tive occurrence.
  • And entire­ly bad event.

Ken­neth W. Sehn­ert, M.D. Stress/Unstress, pg. 19–20

Now, you might be wondering what all of that means, in lay terms.

Stress is nor­mal. As Selye point­ed out, stress comes in “flavours.”

  • There’s distress (what we might call “bad” stress)
  • there’s neu­tral stress (day-to-day stuff that requires a response)
  • and what Selye called eustress (from the Greek eu – “good” as in euphor­ic, good feel­ings) or “good stress.”

Stress is personal.

  • You see a build­ing burn­ing and get a pit of your stom­ach, heavy, scared, “I want to run away” sen­sa­tion — distress.
  • A fire­fight­er hops off the truck and feels eustress — “This is my chance to help, to put out the fire, to maybe save someone!!”
  • A Buf­fa­lo, N. Y. TV reporter sees the fire and goes, “Hmm. Anoth­er fire in Cheek­towa­ga.” — neu­tral stress.

This dif­fer­ence of opin­ion regard­ing what kind of stress one might be feel­ing leads to the con­flicts we cre­ate (which, of course, increas­es our stress.) When we are stressed and oth­ers don’t get it, we fur­ther stress our­selves by say­ing, “You don’t under­stand!” We’re right! They don’t.

Short sto­ries about stress — There is no “one path” to stress — there are several:

  • Tra­di­tion­al fight/flight: you’re walk­ing along, and a tiger jumps out at you. It’s picked up by your eyes, trans­mit­ted simul­ta­ne­ous­ly to the endocrine sys­tem and the body. The body is instan­ta­neous­ly flood­ed with hor­mones designed to speed up res­pi­ra­tion, min­i­mize bleed­ing, sharp­en the sens­es and stop diges­tion. The brain clicks out of think­ing mode to reac­tive mode. This sit­u­a­tion requires an instan­ta­neous reac­tion, not an “Hmm. I won­der what the best way to deal with a charg­ing tiger might be.” As soon as the threat is over, the body dumps the hor­mones, and you feel exhaust­ed, sick to your stom­ach, and soon return to “nor­mal.”

You might think of tra­di­tion­al fight/flight type stress as the nat­ur­al form of stress — what stress reac­tion was orig­i­nal­ly designed for. In oth­er words, this reac­tion was hard wired into us so that we could deal with life-threat­en­ing situations.

  • The “what if” game: you’re sit­ting in a chair and won­der­ing how bad­ly you’ll be mauled if a tiger jumps out at you. This one starts in the head as wor­ry or obses­sion. Because the sub­con­scious can­not tell “real” from “fan­ta­sy” (that’s why we don’t know we’re dream­ing until we wake up,) the body begins to respond as if the threat is real, using the fight/flight response described above. Hor­mones flood the body, and you feel anx­ious, wired, and sus­pi­cious and start “look­ing for the tiger.” Often, with this approach, the body goes on a “low lev­el alert,” and stays slight­ly stressed. This slight­ly stressed state is soon accept­ed as normal.

The idea here is that we are react­ing to an imag­ined (and there­fore imag­i­nary) threat. Left to our own devices, we cre­ate an end­less feed­back loop. I imag­ine I’m threat­ened, and can’t locate the threat, so I assume I’m sim­ply miss­ing the threat, and keep watch­ing, while all the time say­ing, “Well, I feel threat­ened, so there­fore there must be a threat.”

  • The “ouch” game: we’re sit­ting in a chair and we feel pain in our body. Rather than ask, “What’s up,” we either go into denial or over­state the pain into a major ill­ness. In either case, as we do not address the body, the ten­sion at the mus­cu­lar lev­el is accept­ed as normal.

In a sense, you might think of your body as a boil­er in a plant, one with a relief valve that’s adjustable. In the “good old days,” when the valve went off, some­one looked around, fixed what was wrong, and had lunch. These days, some­one goes down­stairs, bangs on the valve and replaces it with one that goes off at a high­er pres­sure. This keeps hap­pen­ing until the tank explodes.

  • The “mod­ern med­ical mir­a­cle” game: There is an expec­ta­tion that the doc­tor has a pill that will make all of this go away. As opposed to our ask­ing the ques­tion, “Why am I cre­at­ing stress in my life and doing noth­ing about it?”

The effects of distress, or chronic stress.

As we’ve not­ed, all stress begins the same way. We are con­front­ed with a “con­fus­ing or threat­en­ing” sit­u­a­tion, and our bod­ies react well before our minds get involved.

We’re wired that way.

This wiring is ancient, and comes from a time when life was short, harsh, and bru­tal. Our fore­bears were the ones who sur­vived long enough to breed. And they sur­vived by hav­ing sen­si­tive stress triggers.

Some­thing (like a lion or tiger… oh my!!) flashed in their periph­ery, and their “fight or flight” mech­a­nism clicked in. The third option, “freeze,” usu­al­ly led to a dead relative.

The most impor­tant thing to get is that the “FoF” (fight or flight) reac­tion is chem­i­cal. Your brain, for the most part, just checks out and comes along for the ride.

Because thinking slows you down.

“Hmm, I think I saw a blur. I think it was orange and black, and some­thing was glit­ter­ing… could that have been teeth? Gee, I won­der? Was that blur a tiger stalk­ing me? Maybe I should run away, or pull my sword… I wonder…”

Snap. Crunch. Lunch.

OK, so you get it. The chemical process that causes “FoF” is instantaneous, for a good reason. 

The prob­lem is, most of us in the 21st cen­tu­ry are not deal­ing with lions or tigers, so the need for big reac­tions is limited.

The threats we face are more subtle.

But the body still reacts — An Anatomy Of Stress Inside Your Body

We all know how our bod­ies feel when under stress. Regard­less, it is good to visu­al­ize what is going on inside the body.

The Heart And Blood Vessels

The heart is a mus­cle in the purest sense of word; a healthy heart has very lit­tle fat, and is extreme­ly effi­cient, con­tract­ing and relax­ing like clock­work for the dura­tion of your existence.

How­ev­er, stress hor­mones change all this. Under their influ­ence, the heart starts to beat much more rapid­ly, part­ly in response to the stim­u­lat­ing action of these hor­mones, but also because blood ves­sels have become constricted.

To under­stand this, think of a water pump.

You can use a one-half inch pipe to sup­ply water, or a one-inch one. When using the half-inch size, the pump needs to work hard­er to push the same vol­ume of water. It is sim­i­lar with your heart, except that it has a quo­ta to main­tain to make sure your cells don’t die from oxy­gen starvation.

The Digestive System

You ever notice that when under stress or anx­i­ety, you feel “but­ter­flies” in your stom­ach, and find it dif­fi­cult to hold your food — or bow­els? This is direct­ly the result of stress hormones.

Under stress, the stom­ach pro­duces more acid, which either helps speed diges­tion (and the desire to emp­ty your bow­els) or cre­ates acid reflux and heart­burn. This is why stom­ach ulcers are more fre­quent in peo­ple who are under high stress.

In the intestines (since food seems to move faster than usu­al,) nutri­tion­al defi­cien­cies can occur, along with diarrhea.

The Respiratory System

Res­pi­ra­tion is tied inti­mate­ly to our cir­cu­la­to­ry sys­tem. Dur­ing exer­cise, your heart pumps faster and you breathe faster. This is because your body needs (is expend­ing) more oxy­gen. For most peo­ple this is not a prob­lem, but for asth­mat­ics or those with pul­monary dis­ease, stress can pre­cip­i­tate asth­ma attacks, or con­stric­tion of the air­ways, mak­ing it dif­fi­cult to breathe.

Hyper­ven­ti­la­tion is also com­mon, and a char­ac­ter­is­tic of a pan­ic attack.

The Reproductive System

Noth­ing wrecks one’s sex life like stress, as mil­lions can tes­ti­fy. This isn’t just psy­cho­log­i­cal, how­ev­er, but also phys­i­cal. In men, the stress hor­mone cor­ti­sol inter­feres with the nor­mal pro­duc­tion of testos­terone, so the sex dri­ve crash­es. In women, men­stru­al cycle dis­tur­bances occur, which can cause painful peri­ods or wild­ly fluc­tu­at­ing hor­mone lev­els through­out the month.

The Endocrine Glands

Endocrine glands are those body parts (includ­ing the adren­al glands, the liv­er and pan­creas) that pro­duce hor­mones, which are then deposit­ed into the body’s blood stream.

Under stress, the adren­al glands pro­duce more cor­ti­sol and adren­a­line — the two key stress hor­mones. In response to this, the liv­er may begin releas­ing stored glyco­gen in the form of glu­cose, as a response to your seem­ing­ly agi­tat­ed state. The pan­creas may also begin pro­duc­ing more insulin, and if the stress response resolves, every­thing goes back to normal.

If the stress response does not resolve, the hormones continue to circulate, and the feeling of low-grade agitation continues.

A stuck Body Leads to a Stuck Brain

On fire… and not in a good way

So, all of that quiv­er­ing, tight, tensed up stuff is the first bod­i­ly reac­tion to a stres­sor. To say it again, this reac­tion is nor­mal, so long as it “goes away” along with the stressor.

Mod­ern life, how­ev­er, seems to have cre­at­ed a “stress state.” By this I mean a per­pet­u­al state of agi­ta­tion. From a bio­log­i­cal point of view, the stress hor­mones nev­er turn off completely.

Just a drip, drip, drip.

Our bod­ies are designed to seek bal­ance — home­osta­sis — BUT can be tricked by cir­cum­stances to have a “mov­ing check­point.” It’s like how our eyes adjust to bright lights… ouch, then… normal.

I used to see this a lot dur­ing Body­work — a client would assure me that their body “wasn’t that tight.” I’d look and think, “Wow! Tight!” So, I’d push, and sud­den­ly it was, “Ouch, ouch, ouch!”

One spot is fiery red — a sign of a phys­i­cal blockage


Or I’d use moxa (A Japan­ese herbal sub­stance you light like incense and apply to the body) and boom, there would be red spots, indi­cat­ing “block­ages.”

The key here is to get that stress is not required. The set­tings your body and mind are “at” are arbi­trary. There are ways to reset things… and from there, to notice what “real nor­mal” feels like.

Index and Body + Health Video.

An excel­lent “intro” arti­cle on how stress happens.

Men­tal exer­cis­es for clear­ing and still­ing the mind.

A Body­work tech­nique — Pro­gres­sive Mus­cle Relaxation

Breath­work descrip­tion, pictures

Breath­work movie clips

Wayne’s books on liv­ing life ful­ly and com­plete­ly
click here

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