Why Has Stress Become the Malady of the Modern Age?

Dr. Purushothaman
January 17, 2014


In this current age of medical advancement, when people are living longer than ever before, why is it that stress is becoming more and more prominent in today's society, affecting our health and our quality of life like no other illness?
It is thought that around 80% of visits to the doctor are stress related, and it is estimated that approximately one million employees worldwide are absent from work every day due to stress. Stress is thought to cost US industry over $200 billion per year, and it has even been declared as one of the most lethal diseases of the 21st Century by the World Health Organization.
Stress is by no means a new condition, in fact it is a throwback to the days when our primitive ancestors needed to protect themselves from predators such as sabre-toothed tigers and the like. Encountering such a creature would trigger a primitive survival response which meant that hormones including cortisol and adrenalin were released causing the blood pressure and heart rate to rise, digestive activity to be suspended and blood to be diverted to the muscles and major organs. The body was literally preparing for fight or flight!
Unfortunately our stress response hasn't changed much since those times, and although modern day stressors are more likely to take the form of traffic jams, financial problems or relationship difficulties, our bodies still respond as though we are in physical danger.
The fight or flight response, which was designed to protect us from physical threat, is now more likely to be triggered by anxieties which result from our imagination and lifestyle. When we worry about our problems regarding money, relationships, work or health, our body and mind are bombarded with stress hormones which remain in the system because we sit stationary at our desks or in our cars or in front of the television. Because we don't have to run away anywhere or stand and fight, the hormones are not metabolized, but instead remain circulating round the body, prolonging the effects of stress in the process. This is one of the main reasons why exercise is extremely beneficial if you are suffering from stress, for it helps to disperse the stress hormones from the body by doing what nature intended, i.e. engaging in vigorous activity.
So what can we do to make ourselves more resilient to the effects of stress? Our first feeling may be that stressful situations are bad and to be avoided at all costs, but this approach is not very realistic. We need some stress in our lives in order to stretch ourselves and grow, and avoiding stressors is simply not practical if we are to survive the rigours of every day life. A better strategy is to try and change the way we react to events and challenges, by using the imagination in a more positive way.
It is not events themselves which are stressful, it is how we react to them that determines the level of stress that we feel. You have the ability to react to a situation in a way that is not detrimental to your wellbeing, and sometimes it is better to accept things that are beyond your control, rather than feel anger or rage against them.
You may find it helpful to divide things into two categories: those that you can influence, and those that you cannot. Do not allow things that you have no control over to worry you and make you feel stressed, because it is a waste of energy which would be better spent finding ways to live with, or in spite of the situation. By accepting what you cannot change, you can significantly reduce the number of stressors in your life.

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