Stress has been a topic of much thought and research in recent years as we try to understand and help those who find the severe effects of stress crippling and debilitating.
Dr Mary Wingo sees stress as our way of adapting to our environment, which requires a deep dive at all levels of biology, ecology, psychology, sociology, as well as economics and politics. She attempts to introduce and simplify stress, so we can truly understand and make actionable choices.
After studying a PH.D in Physiology at the University of North Texas, Dr Wingo specialised in human stress. She eventually moved to Ecuador in South America two years a go – that’s when everything began to fall into place…..
Stress is our bodies concerted effort that allows us to change and fit to the demanding environment, becoming more malleable and adaptable. When Dr Wingo moved to Ecuador, the high altitudes made the air much thinner. It took a number of months for her body to become more efficient at breathing the thinner air. All stressors present us with the opportunity to become more malleable and adapt to our environment – stress is how we adapt, it’s a mechanism to help us survive.
So what does your body do when your environment changes, producing a stressor?
Our body can go into alarm stage when we realise that there has been a sudden change in the environment. We have to become more alert and focused and this is where adrenaline kicks in. Then cortisol, which is a steroid and more long term hormone, is released. It works on a molecular level to change the tissue to adapt to the environment. If we can’t resolve the stress – we enter the exhaustion stage when the tissue does not function properly and will start to die. This is how disease takes hold and the stress ultimately culminates into the many diseases that we see today.
Stress is bankrupting our lives, destroying families and communities.
We are only supposed to be exposed to stress periodically but modern life exposes us to more. Work stress, bad traffic, over scheduling – is not good for our systems. This way of life is pretty new.
It’s not the single unit of stress that counts, it’s the accumulation of different types of stresses. Ultimately we are meant to have some form of stress for adaption to develop higher condition abilities and more resilience. But if you keep pushing things could break down….
The ability to manage emotional strength
Our frontal lobes are the primary stress response organ. They contend with stress and solve problems. There is only so much change that a human can do and only so far you can stretch the body, in the same way there is only so far you can stretch the frontal lobe. Through our frontal lobe we change our environment to fit us rather that us changing to fit the environment. This is how we have been able to do things such as… make clothes, shelter or make fire to keep us from the cold.
Using tools to help you cope with the environment.
When entering the exhaustion stage a second set of receptors of cortisol are activated and the frontal lobe function begins to shut down. When you over stress the frontal lobe you lose, through the actions of cortisol, the ability to solve problems, concentrate and control your emotions. So when we look at how all diseases result when we enter the exhaustion phase, this is the same with mental illness.
Dr Wingo realised when she moved to Ecuador, that very few people were medicated for anything. In the USA 20-30% of children are medicated for various psychiatric problems. The local children did not seem to have problems with the attention and emotional regulation that others have. For Dr Wingo this was a final piece of the puzzle – this was not consistent in all cultures but more prevalent in the, so-called, more developed cultures.
Five reasons why some countries have had an explosion of stress related illness and mortality in recent years are outlined by Dr Wingo below:
1) Over taxation on our working memory and multitasking can cause problems. If a particular task requires a lot of concentration, time and effort, we need to minimise the other stressors (particularly psychological) that we are exposed to. A lot of athletes seem to understand this when focusing on training but others doing brain intensive activities often really abuse themselves.
2) Situations where you have those at the top who are hogging all of the resources when there is enough to go around, causes stressors. Those at the bottom end of this hierarchy have to be more adoptable as they are subjected to the whims of the environment.
3) Loss of social capital has a huge impact when we lose social networks and interaction. Participation in religious, educational or social groups has declined and some people are becoming more isolated as they don’t participate in society. If you are isolated and don’t have other around to help you, you become more vulnerable.
4) Depletion or derangement of the human bio – the “critters” that live on and in us. Poor eating habits, hygiene, exposure to chemicals, processed food… have messed up the profile of our flora that has evolved over millions of years. These critters are functional extensions of our organs’ system. For example, the critters in our gut synthesise vitamins, are involved in immune signalling and cellular growth signally. They are functionally part of us that help us to operate.
5) chemical stressors can be caused by poor nutrition, gmo’s and exposure to chemicals that did not exist 30 years ago. It takes millions of years to evolve metabolic processes so we need time to adapt and break down compounds that are in our environment.
The key tool to manage your stress is to realise that stress is additive. If you encompass a stressful event, you shouldn’t take on projects that require a huge amount of concentration. If you have a stressful job you have to treat yourself as an athlete. If you have disorder and extreme demands for performance in one part of your life, you have to make it balanced by having extreme order, tranquility and organisation in other parts of your life.
If you are interested in finding our more about Dr Mary Wingo you can find her on Linkedin, Facebook or visit marywingo.com where Dr Wingo offers coaching and consulting and you can get a hold of her book “The impact of the human stress response” and other brilliant resources.
Find more resources to build your Resilience Toolkit at qedod.com