Impact of Life Stressors on Systems
Life stressors can impact any human system, physical, mental, emotional, social or spiritual. Life stressors generally fall under one of six categories, including relationship issues (conflicted marriages, parent-child relationships, strained friendships), health status issues (coping with disease itself, impact of illness on relationships and budget, impact on ability to cope), career status or events (emotionally abusive environment, unrealistic demands, job that is a bad match, concern about layoffs), finances, personal safety (for self and family) and home life issues (chores, childrearing, home improvements). Any one of these issues can wreak havoc on an individual’s biopsychosocial systems. Conversely, life stressors can also provide the impetus for increased productivity, allowing one to perform at his/her optimal peak.
The stress response is a biological function, often referred to as the “fight or flight” response. The Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) is the control system, operating largely without consciousness, controlling visceral functioning necessary for “fight or flight” activities, acting to increase heart rate, blood pressure, muscle tone, breathing, reading the gastro-intestinal tract for survival by expelling unneeded waste (bowel/bladder functioning is part of this), increased pupil size and other functions related to increasing survival awareness and ability to adapt and overcome a perceived threatening situation. When the body perceives a stressful situation, such as being in the path of an oncoming car, the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS), a component of the ANS, engages to provide the necessary functions for survival. As a note, breathing may be controlled by both conscious awareness and control in addition to being a part of the ANS, making it a component for use in relaxation and stress response training.
When the individual encounters multiple life stressors, the body’s SNS works in the same way, dropping stress hormones, such as cortisol and norepinephrine, and altering glucose levels in the body, and triggering the same reactions in varying levels to prepare for survival. Under chronic conditions, these hormones and alterations in body chemistry, which trigger the SNS to create a situation of chronic stress, depleting the body’s ability to fight physical illness and impairing the biological system.
Stress does not stop at the biological system. When life stressors are present, cognitive capacities are also compromised. The SNS reaction is reallocation of the body’s resources for survival. Higher level reasoning and other frontal lobe activity is not necessary for basic survival, so if you have ever wondered why you were forgetful when you were under stress, this is why. Your body was allocating needed resources for survival elsewhere.