The Fight-or-Flight Response
In 1932, Walter Cannon offered some of the earliest stress research and established the theory of the “fight-or-flight” response. His work tried to prove that when an organism experiences a shock or receives a threat, it reacts instantly by releasing hormones that enable it to survive.
In human beings and other animals, these hormones allow for greater speed and strength. Heart rate and blood pressure increases, delivering more oxygen and blood sugar to support major muscles.
Sweating increases for example to better cool the muscles and to allow them to remain efficient. The blood is regulated to reduce blood loss if there is any damaged. Hormones focus our attention on the threat, to the exclusion of everything else. All of this commands a stronger ability to survive life-threatening events.
We can also trigger this same reaction when we are faced with something unexpected or something that prevents us from our goals. If the threat is small, our response will be that we may not notice the stressful element among the many other distractions of a stressful day.
This mobilization of the body to spring into survival mode also has negative consequences. We become excitable, anxious, jumpy and irritable. This state can diminish our ability to be most effective. Feeling shaky with a pounding heart, we can find it difficult to carry out skills that we should normally be able to control.
The intensity of our focus on survival takes from our ability to draw information from several sources. We can find that we are more accident-prone and less able to make the right decisions.
To be most productive, our everyday lives require a calm, rational, controlled and socially sensitive approach.
We need to be able to control our fight-or-flight response; otherwise, we can develop problems such as poor health and nervous breakdown.
Trying to Identify Stress in your Life
Many people go through their days without being aware of the stressful elements in their lives. They might think, “Well, how serious can it be if I don’t even know it exists?”
Regardless of how little or how much stress you have in your life, being able to identify it will be a great help to you. Once you are able to identify the stress in your life for what it is, you can then go about the business of dealing with it more effectively.
Make no mistake about it - if you have stress in your life, chances are you are reacting negatively to at least part of it.
Go on to the next step of your guide on stress management: Effects Of Stress - Keep A Diary