Stress: Control and lack thereof

Stress is an unavoidable part of our existence as human beings. Like the earth’s crust, we buckle and often erupt, letting the world know we’ve had enough. Thankfully, this is metaphorical. Biologically speaking, stressors cause a three stage response: alarm, resistance, and exhaustion.

General Adaptation Syndrome.jpg

The alarm stage is typically the fight or flight response.  The image below lists the physiological responses. Take note of the suppressed immune system (bottom right).

fight_or_flight

During the resistance stage, you’re using every asset available to handle the stressor. Unfortunately, our bodies have finite resources and these eventually run out.

Once the tools to combat the stressor have been depleted, we reach the exhaustion stage. At this point, our energy stores are depleted, our immune system is dramatically depressed, and we can die. In a pretty simplistic sense, we cope with stress and eliminate it, the stressor goes away on its own, or we die.

In summation:

  1. everybody experiences stress
  2. it isn’t always a bad thing
  3. unless you reach the exhaustion stage and maybe die

But we still haven’t discussed the cause of stress.

Many experts will tell you that stress is caused by a lack of control. My own experience leads me to agree. Let’s consider one example, my recently completed nursing licensure exam (NCLEX). For three weeks before the exam, I studied everyday and answered hundreds of practice questions. I felt some anxiety, but didn’t reach the alarm stage at any point. I was in control of the situation and didn’t perceive any threat… until I sat down to take the NCLEX. I had a feeling I would begin stressing out once I started to take the test, but I didn’t expect to hit the alarm stage 10 questions into it. During the tenth question, I had no idea what the medication mentioned was, nor did any of the answers give me a clue. I couldn’t exactly ask the person next to me or look it up in my drug guide, but I was still in control of selecting an answer. Adrenaline and Cortisol were being released. I considered the options of smashing the computer or run screaming from the room. Fight-or-flight was in full effect. Ultimately, I selected an answer and finished the remaining questions. Once the test ended, the stressor was removed and I had survived. While reflecting on the experience, I realized it wasn’t my lack of control over the questions that caused stress, but the lack of control over my future. I would lose job offers, the subsequent income, and 45 days of my life until I could retake it.  Overall, it could be worse, but it sure as hell felt like a lot was at stake.

By now you’re probably thinking “Wow, the most stressful thing in your life is a computerized exam? You’ve got it pretty easy”, and I would have to agree. So let’s consider how the stress response plays out in a less likely, but more serious situation: Werewolf attack.

Imagine one night you’re walking through the woods and suddenly hear something rustling behind you. The fight-or-flight response immediately kicks in, and you turn just in time to look the man-beast in the eye as it pounces on you. You hold it’s jaws open and try to kick it in the nuts as it claws at your torso, but realize you don’t even know if it has testicles. Nor do you have adequate time to check. Your less-than-supernatural strength, lack of a weapon, and inability to talk the werewolf down is a major disadvantage. Ultimately, you lack the control to handle the stressor, and don’t survive. Now in this instance, it’s not the exhaustion stage of stress that kills, but the stressor itself. Nonetheless, you’re dead and it was the lack of control relative to the urgency of the situation that killed you.

So how do NCLEX and werewolves relate? It wasn’t just about the stressor and it wasn’t just about the lack of control. It was the combination of the two that caused stress. While we can never eliminate all stress, we can surely help other people to remove some of the stressors and have more control in the situations. Providing medical aid and a place to receive it addresses both. That’s where we come in…

The Peacework Medical Clinic being built in Gard Hiram, Haiti will provide the community with more control over their illnesses, and prevent many issues from progressing to unmanageable levels. Think of it as the weapon in the fight against a big, mean predator. It’s not going to fix everything, but it gives the community a fighting chance… Something we all deserve.

Thanks for reading and spread the word,

Josh

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1 comment for “Stress: Control and lack thereof

  1. 12.14.14 at 09:56

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