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PO Box 297 Buena Vista, CO 81211

Identifying Stress

To learn more about identifying stress, there are many sources on the web that have
stress calculation exercises where you can quantify and analyze what type of stress you
are under. It’s not necessary for relaxation to know “why” you are stressed, however,
decreasing negative stimuli from your life, solving unresolved issues, and changing
thought patterns to ones that are more positive are all beneficial and will reduce stress
in the future. If you need help identifying your stressors: See Thomas Holmes “
of Recent Experiences”, keep a diary, or make a list of
1. All the things that are causing you stress,
2. the extent to which these things cause you discomfort on a scale of 1-10,
3. & the symptoms of stress you exhibit with each experience.

Sources of Stress

Stress researchers Lazarus & Folkman (1984) said stress is felt when you define your
situation as dangerous, difficult, or painful and you don’t have the resources to cope
with it.

  • Environmental – pollution, weather, traffic, noise, pollens, toxins, or natural
  • Social – pressures to succeed & accomplish, perform, love & be loved, competing
    demands for your attention & time, loss & grief.
  • Physiological – bodily changes in maturity & old age, poor nutrition, lack of
    exercise, inadequate sleep, injury & trauma.
  • Psychological – how you interpret your past & present experiences, what you
    predict for your future.

How Your Body Reacts to Stress

Symptoms of Stress

  • Emotional Symptoms – anxiety in specific situations, general anxiety, anxiety in
    personal relationships, depression, anger, irritability, resentment, phobias, fear,
    unrelenting shame, oppression.
  • Physical Symptoms – muscular tension, high blood pressure, high cholesterol,
    headaches, neck aches, backaches, muscle spasms, insomnia, sleep disturbances,
    indigestion, abdominal pain, cold sweat, dry mouth, and hyperventilation.
  • Mental Symptoms- worry, repetitive thoughts, faithlessness, inability to “let go”,
    inability to forgive, holding grudges, excessive guilt, excessive mistrust of others,
    paranoia, ingratitude, inability to concentrate, nightmares, blaming.

Flight of Fight Response

Walter B Cannon was the first to describe the “flight or fight response”. The essence of
the idea is that when you interpret or predict a situation as dangerous, painful, or too
difficult there is a series of biochemical changes that occur in your body giving you the
energy to either fight the threat or run away. It is a useful & necessary survival

Hans Seyle (1978), the first major researcher on stress, was able to trace that
biochemical process of stress. He also found that any threat, real or imagined, can
stimulate the sympathetic nervous system and the flight or fight response.

The Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) is what regulates the “flight or fight”
biochemical processes. It is characterized by symptoms such as increased heart rate,
increased breath rate, pupil contraction, capillary constriction, a stop in digestion, burst
of energy, increased sweat, increased ATP (energy) production, increased muscle
tension, increased metabolism, hearing becomes more acute, blood gets directed away
from extremities and digestive system into larger muscles and core protection, the
adrenal glands secrete corticoids (adrenaline, epinephrine), collagen production
increases, etc. This is the energy and physical resources needed to fight or run.

The Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS) does the opposite functions & increases
relaxation, digestion, and dilation.

Chronic Stress

If everything works correctly, when we experience stress, our body turns on our SNS,
called the “Alarm” or “Arousal” Phase, we cope with the stress (using the increased
energy to alleviate the negative stimuli), and then our body turns on the PNS so we can
relax again when the situation is no longer dangerous. But what happens when our
Sympathetic NS (Arousal) won’t turn off and we can't relax? The long term effects of
increased SNS activity inhibit digestion, growth, reproduction, tissue repair, immune
function, strength & muscle function, flexibility, etc.; and cause abnormal rhythms,
fascial restrictions, poor biomechanics, chronic physical pain, disease, and mental

When stressors are unrelenting, or small stressors accumulate, your body continues to
perceive a threat, remains aroused, and you are unable to recover. The stress becomes
chronic. It interferes with normal life. It becomes disease.

When we are already in a state of chronic stress, what happens when we experience
more stressors? More stress means more tension and decreased function. The shoulders
rise a little bit higher. Over time, if there is no let down, we forget what it feels like to
be relaxed. The “stressed” state becomes our new “normal”. We lose the ability to
relax. This is called adaptation.

Adaptation Syndrome

In 1951, Hans Selye’s research on stress showed that the body always reacts to various
stimuli in the same non-specific way. This was termed the adaptation syndrome
consisting of a bodily alarm phase, resistance phase, and exhaustion phase.

Alarm- When we are injured we go into a state of dissociation. It is a survival technique.
Our body and mind experience the instinctive “freeze” response. This positional
physiological memory becomes imprinted into our subconscious and conscious body
awareness. The nervous system becomes stuck in a state of hyper- arousal. Tension
becomes "locked" into our bodies and minds. The more stressors we endure, the greater
the hyper- arousal becomes.

Resistance or Adaptation Phase- If stressors continue the body adapts to the stressors.
Changes take place in order to cope with the stressors or reduce their effect. For
example, your posture changes to shelter or protect a dysfunctional area. Symptoms of
stress appear. Patterns of stress-related emoting, thinking, and behaving are reinforced
in our brains and become part of our identity. Soon, they become our primary responses
because they are the most used.

When clients come to my office in this state, their muscles are like 2x4s. The massage
work does very little. After treatment, they say they feel relaxed, but to me their
muscles feel just as tight. They’ve lost the ability to discern between stressed and
relaxed. The goal then becomes re-learning to differentiate between what “stress” and
“relaxation” feel like in the body, and then increasing the space between the two

Exhaustion Phase- The body’s resistance to stress may gradually decline or just collapse.
The body’s ability to resist disease is eliminated.

Continue to Stress Part II - Stress Reduction


Holmes, Thomas, MD. (1981). Schedule of Recent Experience. The University of
Washington Press.
Davis, Martha, PhD; Eschelman, Elizabeth Robbins, MSW; McKay, Matthew, PhD. (2008).
The Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook. New Harbinger Publications.
Lazarus, R.S., and S. Folkman. (1984).
Stress Appraisal and Coping. Springer Publishing.
Seyle, H. (1978).
The Stress of Life. McCraw Hill.
Mountain Meadow Massage Therapy