During the 1930s, a researcher by the name of Selye described what he referred to as the General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS). Selye was interested in the long-term effects of chronic or constant activation and he is credited with first using the term stress to describe influences from the environment that triggers the body’s biological fight, flight or freeze response. The term “stress” was borrowed from the field of engineering where it referred to pressures applied to metals. In the beginning, applied pressure strengthens metals (think of heat applied to steel). However, the excessive applied pressure eventually causes a destructive effect (steel will eventually bend and break). Selye described 3 stages which occur when stress is applied:
- Alarm – activation of the fight, flight, freeze response
- Resistance – the body’s efforts to adapt and return to homeostasis (normal) while still dealing with the stressor
- Exhaustion – depletion of the body’s resources for responding
In high-risk professions, it is necessary to develop a certain amount of stress resistance or resilience. Your training was incrementally more and more difficult for this reason. It is necessary to establish a “new normal” or the ability to function normally under job-related pressures that are not typical in other environments. This is a very necessary type of stress resistance that enables you to function on the job. Part of this involves learning to function under adverse circumstances (shift work, weather extremes, sudden confrontations). Stress resistance, to a certain degree, involves learning to work through your body’s signals of activation. This is Stage 2 of the Selye model and becomes your “new normal” while on the job. However, there is a downside. In most high-risk professions, individuals get ample practice “tuning out” their body’s signals and very little, if any, training “tuning back in.” The result of this lopsided practice is that many high-risk professionals become so used to being amped up, they no longer feel it even when off duty.
Selye was interested in what happened when people were in a state of resistance for long periods of time. He wondered what it would look like when the body’s crisis system “failed.” He described the result as exhaustion or a state in which serious harmful effects from stress could occur. The harmful effects of prolonged stress have been studied extensively and they are serious. Some of the documented effects of excessive or prolonged stress include:
- Higher risk for illnesses (run of the mill colds, flu)
- Higher risk for hypertension
- Higher risk for stroke
- Higher “bad” cholesterol levels
- Higher risk for weight gain
- Higher risk of developing cancer
- Higher risk of chronic headaches
- Higher risk of chronic pain
- Higher risk of sleep problems
- Higher risk of accidents
Stress, or applied pressure, is not necessarily a bad thing. Applied pressure improves an individual’s resilience. Resilience is very desirable. I will discuss the concept of resilience in future articles, but for now, just pay attention to the very real ways your job training may have fallen short. You may be quite capable of tuning out or working through your body’s signals. At times this is necessary. However, you most likely have received little (if any) training on working with your body as you develop your stress resistance skills. Fighting your body’s design is never smart. Developing your potential by working within the design can make you amazing. Unless you personally take charge of practicing tuning back in and working with the design, you may be headed for a big, fat, physical, mental and emotional brick wall called exhaustion (sometimes known as a chronic disease). You might not even feel it when you hit the wall. Stay tuned…
Click here for a video on this subject.
This information has been provided by EPFD and WellConnect Counseling. The center is available for confidential assistance and treatment at 593-5676.