Recalling Stress

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The increase in muscle tension prepares you to act.



During stress you usually feel anger or fear.

If you have gotten used to the stress reaction then you may have actually forgotten what stress feels like. It is easy to remember, however.

Just recall the last time you were driving a car when someone suddenly pulled out in front of you. You are confronted with an immediate threat, and your body instantly goes into action. Before you can think or act your body has already done lots of things.

What do you remember your body doing as it went into a heightened state of physiological arousal to help you deal with this threat? You may have noticed an increase in muscle tension. In a threatening situation you may have to defend yourself, so there is a generalized increase in muscle tension. Your reflexes will be faster when your muscles are slightly tense. It is like the stance of a runner at the start of a race. His body is set to go and increased muscle tension prepares him for the needed action. Your increase in muscle tension prepares you to act.

Tense muscles, however, need more oxygen. The heart rate goes up to more quickly pump the oxygen carrying red blood cells to the muscles. You may notice the pounding in your chest. When the heart rate increases there is a corresponding increase in blood pressure. Your breathing pattern changes and respiration becomes more rapid and shallow as more oxygen is brought into the lungs, picked up by the blood cells, and taken to the muscles. As all of this activity goes on it is not a good time to be leisurely digesting food. The gastrointestinal system comes to a screeching halt as the blood supply is diverted away from the belly to the large muscles of the body that are preparing for action. You may notice the "butterflies in the belly" sensation.

These physical changes are the ones we are most aware of when confronted with a threat, especially, if the threat is dangerous. Many other processes are going on but are out of awareness. For example, the pupils of the eyes dilate so that you can see better. Chemical reactions occur so that you blood will clot faster, and you will not bleed to death if cut defending yourself. The blood vessels in the extremities constrict so that not as much blood flows, and you would bleed less if cut.

In addition to all these physical changes you may notice emotional changes as well. Most often people feel either angry or afraid.

Well, with this as a reminder of what you body does when you are threatened, lets’ ask, "Why is all of this taking place?"



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