Stress is defined as a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) expands the concept further, explaining that everyone experiences some form of stress, as it is how the “brain and body respond to any demand.” So, everyone experiences stress at some point in life, and the body is designed to handle stressful moments in stride. However, when stress is constant and long term, it has been shown to have a harmful impact on the body.
The concept of flight, fight or freeze (FFF) has been around for centuries and is believed to be an inherent response to the days of sabretooth tigers and wooly mammoths. It was a time when humans were not at the top of the food chain, so the mind and body had to quickly assess the situation and determine the best form of action: fight, flight or freeze.
FFF is an unconscious response, triggered in the autonomic nervous system (ANS), in particular the sympathetic nervous system (SNS), which prompts a flood of hormones into the body-mainly adrenaline as well as cortisol. In this state, our heart rate and blood flow increases, our pupils dilate, the digestive system and many other systems slow down to save energy for whatever comes next.
The system has and continues to serve us well, as we are still here. The challenge is that today, our bodies kick into the same survivor response when stuck in traffic or missing an important phone call. Thus, we’re enduring a constant flow of FFF hormones, and this overactivity can lead to noted issues associated with the harmful effects of long-term stress.
Sherrie Tennessee has more than 16 years in the spa industry, having held positions as a massage therapist, spa owner, speaker, educator and author. She is currently the education director of SpaSOS, a spa and wellness education and consulting firm.