Psycho-neuro-immunology has grown in leaps and
bounds during the last two decades and our knowledge of the various stress
effects on the body has also grown proportionally.
A. The automatic physiological stress effects on
the body is known as the General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS):
GAS has three stages:
1. The Stage of Stress Alarm Reaction
2. The Stage of Stress Resistance
3. The Stage of Stress Exhaustion
1.The Stage of Stress Alarm Reaction : The initial stress effect on
This is also known as the 'fight or flight'
response. As soon as our body is faced with a stressful situation, our body
explodes with a sudden surge of energy with flooding of hundreds of hormones and
chemical activators into the blood stream. We become alert and ready to meet any
The main players at this stage are heart, lungs, brain, nervous system
and the muscles, all stimulated by the release of hormones. Arousal is initiated
by hypothalamus by release of endorphins, the natural painkillers. At the same
time, adrenaline is secreted by the adrenal glands. Adrenaline causes
palpitations, increased blood pressure and release of vital nutrients. It also
causes muscle tension and makes breathing faster and shallower.
is also secreted, and is associated with positive ecstatic arousal. Another
hormone, Cortisol, converts glycogen stored in the liver into blood sugar, thus
stimulating the brain and whole body with instant energy.
In males, the hormone Testosterone is released,
and provides the required surge of strength. Thyroxin, released by thyroid
gland, stimulates the metabolic system and regulates the oxygen consumption. Our
digestive system slows down, as blood is diverted to essential organs required
to meet the immediate threat. Thus the stress alarm reaction puts the body in
the fight or flight mode.
2.The Stage Of Stress Resistance: Response to stress effect on the
Once the alarm reaction is established and the
immediate threat is over, the body moves onto a stress resistance phase, where the
bodily functions put on alert are reverted back to a near normal state. The
heart rate, respiratory rate and metabolic activities come down to a maintenance
level; the body is still ready and alert.
More cortisol, thyroxin etc are
released to speed up the tissue repair, which may have been damaged during
stress. This is the stage of stress resistance.
3. The Stage Of Stress Exhaustion : Stress effect on the body turns
Emotions such as anger, anxiety and impatience etc
are continuous stress stimulators, and without our knowledge, our body is put in
(and stays in!) a 'fight' mode. Overdose of adrenaline often causes irritability
and uneasiness. Nor-adrenaline excess makes us feel disconnected and high.
much of cortisol will suppress the immune system, making us vulnerable to a host
of diseases. Extra sodium is retained, affecting the cardiovascular and
excretory systems adversely.
Thus our body goes into stress exhaustion and breakdown
due to the side effects of continuous, uncontrolled stress. Emotionally, we are
depressed, anxious, disoriented, insecure and frustrated. If this situation is
allowed to proceed unchecked; family breakdown, mental illness, work absence, alcoholism or drug dependency
gradually step in to further complicate the stress condition.
These stages occur on their own, though the intensity may vary depending upon
our coping capabilities.
B. At the conscious level, psychologists say we respond to stress
in two major
1. Primary appraisal:
Thus we do something to limit the impact of the stress.
2. Secondary appraisal:
Continued appraisal till the threat is no longer
present or felt.
We are likely to feel less stress if we feel competent to deal with any given
situation. We are likely to feel more stress if we feel it over our heads.
Illness, tiredness and drug or alcohol addiction can also increase our stress
over situations that we might otherwise take in a stride.