The Stress Spectrum
Stress is a state of mental or emotional tension which results from certain circumstances. Most relate the feeling of stress as being overwhelmed, upset, frustrated, nervous or a gamut of feelings that feel uncontrollable, negative and simply uncomfortable. As a result of stress, many experience symptoms such as:
- Low energy
- Upset stomach, including diarrhea, constipation, and nausea
- Aches, pains, and tense muscles
- Chest pain and rapid heartbeat
- Frequent colds and infections
- Loss of sexual desire and/or ability
However, the symptoms often resulting from stress are actually a part of a spectrum of the developing stress process. János Hugo Bruno “Hans” Selye CC, a research scientist and endocrinologist spent much of his life and career studying the hypothetical non-specific reactions of individual organisms to certain stressors. As a result of his research, Seyle helped modern medicine and psychology develop the “stress spectrum.”
The spectrum begins with EUSTRESS, which is a normal or healthy psychological stress that is manageable and in most cases, beneficial to the impacted individual. Though eustress can be a result of various factors and look differently for each person, Seyle discovered that this type of stress could enhance attention and even contribute to positive emotions such as joy and excitement. However, beyond a certain breaking point, eustress can become too much to manage, and as a result shifts to DISTRESS.
This breaking point leading from eustress to distress can vary from person to person due to differing determining factors like personal beliefs and thoughts, family influences, genetics, health conditions and so on. As a result, each individual can shift from eustress to distress at a varied rate. For some, the slightest hiccup can throw them into distress, whereas for others it may take a combination of events to push them over the tipping point. No matter where one’s tipping point may be on the spectrum, the more that can be learned from the signs and symptoms, the easier it is to shift back into eustress and avoid the next stage in the spectrum: ACCUMULATIVE STRESS.
Accumulative stress is the result of small stressors adding up to larger, harder to deal with stressors. For example, think of it this way.
As you are walking, you picked up a small weight and before you got rid of the weight you picked up another one, and another and another. Before long, you realize that you are carrying more weight than you originally began with.
Accumulative stress can be a result of quick disruptions and obstacles that have thrust themselves into your physiological disturbances, or it can be result of small stressors that have not been dealt with piling up overtime. No matter the cause of accumulative stress, as time passes and the stress has not been dealt with, one may begin to experience BURNOUT.
Burnout is considered the final phase of the stress spectrum in which mental and emotional stress can be accompanied by other noticeable stressors such as physical, spiritual, financial and so on. For example-think of it this way.
As you are still carrying the extra weight while walking, an earthquake begins beneath your feet and you lose your footing.
The transition from chronic cumulative stress to burnout can oftentimes be a quick noticeable shift from chronic unmanageable stress to a paralyzing, trauma like physiological stress. Burnout has been described in many cases as immovable, numbing, disjointed, disconcerting and life altering.
In most cases, treatment and coping techniques can be prescribed by a professional once the type of stress is identified. Seyle himself however believes that thought can have a positive impact on any type of stress as he said, “Adopting the right attitude can convert a negative stress into a positive one.”
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– CASEY EDMONDS, CHC
Health Advisor | Email Casey