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The Science of Stress

Fight-or-Flight

Stress is not always a bad thing. Back when our ancestors were still furnishing caves, sudden danger activated the nervous system, signaled the production of hormones like adrenaline and cortisol and primed the body for action. Just like the zebra's fight-or-flight response shown in the video to the left, essential energy needed to outrun or outmanuever a lion resulted in the temporary shut down of nonessential biological functions like digestion and ovulation. But if survival mode does not subside, the body's biological functions can be damaged.

Stress as a Motivator

Stress still serves a useful function. It is considered to be a positive influence if it enhances your ability to meet or exceed an identified goal such as getting married, having a baby, buying a home, or starting a new job. Because the goals are meaningful, they require a lot of personal energy and investment. In these situations, stress acts as a motivator.

Unfortunately, humans can generate the same response simply by anticipating stress, whether or not it occurs, and whether or not it's merited. And when we subject ourselves to prolonged psychological stress (as Type A personalities in particular do) we contract ulcers, diabetes, heart disease, brain damage and other dysfunctions.

Video: the Stress Response in Action

When stressed, the body switches on its autonomic nervous system and neurobiological processes in an effort to stabilize the body's inner environment. To watch the Stress Response in action, click here.

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