Where Stress Hides in Your Body
For several decades, many scientists have debated the meaning of stress. Unfortunately, a clear decisive definition has not evolved. Researchers, however, have discovered stress is a subjective phenomenon. The human body is designed to experience stress and react to the stressor in order to survive. Individuals can perceive and respond to similar experiences differently. An athlete, for example, may feel negative stress (i.e., distress) and become ill when preparing to make a putt during a golf tournament. Nonetheless, the athlete is able to overcome this stressful experience and make the putt.
On the other hand, another golfer may accept the stressful situation as pleasurable (i.e., eustress) and use optimism to strategize for a successful putt. The strategy is effective and the golf ball goes into the cup. Eventually, both golfers have produced an optimal athletic performance. It is important for both coaches and athletes to realize the human body wants to alleviate the stressor and return to a relaxed state as soon as possible.
Interestingly, researchers have determined that as an individual’s level of stress increases, performance will also increase. However, at some point, a prolonged stressful situation will produce a drastic decrease in performance. For example, a bike ride through the park can be an enjoyable activity until the cyclist’s desire for speed places too much stress on the bicycle’s chain and the chain breaks. Then, the bike has become useless as a mode of transportation and the individual must walk to a final destination. Without question, too much stress is detrimental and individuals can develop mental and physical problems. Signs and symptoms of stress include depression, panic attacks, headaches, chest pain, or difficulty breathing. The American Institute of Stress (AIS) offers a list of “50 common signs and symptoms of stress” on the organization’s web site.
It is important to recognize that stress is a consequence of daily life. In the United States, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) estimates $300 billion (USD) are allocated to stress-related illness annually. Stress management can be effective in reducing an individual’s level of stress and minimizing mental and physical difficulties. Unfortunately, no single method of stress management is effective for everyone. Therefore, it may take some time in order to determine which stress management techniques are effective for personal use.
Some examples of these techniques include: breathing exercises, aerobic exercise, meditation, and massage therapy. Practicing these techniques on a daily basis may enhance an individual’s quality of life. AIS explains, “The key to reducing stress is to prevent it.” Maintaining a proper sleep schedule, consuming a healthy diet, avoiding excess caffeine and alcohol, and planning time for relaxation may assist in the prevention of prolonged stress.
MSNBC recently ran on article on where stress resides in the body and how it attacks the body. Stress is unique to the human species. The article quotes Dr. Robert Sapolsky, PhD, as describing the rigors of stress for humans. Dr. Sapolsky stated, “If you are a normal mammal, stress is the three minutes of screaming terror on the savannah, after which either it’s over with or you’re over with”. (Taken from his book Why Zebras Don’t Get Stress).
The article identifies a number of stress points in the body and how we can recognize the symptoms of stress and deal with it. It’s fair to say that a common theme concerning stress is that our own propensity to take ourselves too seriously and too attach too much significance to our thoughts and actions is a major source of stress.
Perhaps the protagonist from the old Mad Magazine issues, Alfred E. Newman, had it right when he said, “What, me worry”? Perhaps stress is ultimately a choice we make.
What do you think?
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Scott Johnson, EdD, MBA
Dr. Johnson is the Chair of Sports Coaching at the United States Sports Academy. He has a doctorate in sports psychology and master’s degrees in business administration, sports business administration, athletic coaching education, counseling, and sport behavior.