Physiological Response to Stress
Stress is everywhere. Our entire life is, basically, a sequence of stressful experiences of a different depth and duration. But we do not always consider our current state to be stressful, otherwise, we would never even think of such word as happiness. When someone speaks about stress it usually means the feeling of a subjective psychological state scientifically called distress.
This state is characteristic to all creatures that have complex nervous system, so there is no deep principal difference in the organismal response to challenges of the environment between a rat and a human. The state of stress and its stages were described by Hans Selye in the middle of twentieth century. He found that mammals, no matter cats, rats or humans, give the consistent reactions to any kinds of stressors and named that set of reactions a General Adaptation Syndrome. Selye observed the time perspective of General Adaptation Syndrome or GAS and divided it into three stages.
The first stage is an alarm reaction. It occurs when the stressor, which can be described as any environmental or internal source of threat, is perceived and identified for the first time. This state is accompanied by the general motor agitation, increased heartbeat, quickened breath and many other physical manifestations that anyone can observe. All these changes are possible if organism possess a certain supply of resources and energy that could be used to support the organic systems involved in the process of saving the organism from immediate threat. The second stage is called the resistance stage. At this point our organism does not demonstrate such vivid activity and agitation but tries to cope with continuous dangers from the environment while maintaining the normal functioning of all the systems at the best rate possible.
This takes considerable amount of material resources as the rate of their consumption by the brain and muscles is still high while the systems, such as digestive for example, that are responsible for providing the body with the said resources are suppressed. The latter happens due to activation of sympathetic division of autonomous nervous system which in its turn is the result of functioning of hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis or HPA. Omitting the processes that occur inside brain, the important thing for us is that the activation of sympathetic division of autonomous nervous system results in mobilizing the systems and organs that are involved in actual performance of fight-or-flight reaction and at the same time suppressing anything else that has nothing to do with mentioned reaction. This includes digestive, excretory and immune systems. As shown in a study, done by Panesar (2008), cortisol, a stress hormone, directly affects lymphocytes, decreasing their activity and in this way making our organism overall more susceptible to all the kinds of deceases. Even though the amount and quality of stresses in our life do not directly predict our health as there are many other counterbalancing factors, it is important to remember that prolonged stress is a reason of the vast majority of …