The co-authors of Invasion of the Prostate Snatchers, blog alternate posts weekly. We invite you to post your comments.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Did You Know: Stress Comes in Three Shades


Our central nervous system, endocrine and immune systems communicate constantly with each other to maintain homeostasis—a healthy balance that promotes health and healing. Then at moments of perceived threat, these systems respond almost instantaneously with a chain of physical responses commonly known as fight-or-flight.

Originally evolved to protect us from acute physical danger—like an attack from a wild animal—the fight-or-flight system is a brilliant mechanism for handling acute, concrete threats, and then returning to homeostasis when the threat has passed. However, this emergency response system was not designed to be continuously activated, and when it receives a threat message for which there is no swift resolution, the result is chronically elevated levels of stress hormones that repress the action of the immune system. In fact, according to Bruce Lipton, Ph.D. stress hormones are so effective at curtailing immune function that doctors provide them to recipients of transplants so that their immune systems wouldn’t reject the foreign tissues.

In today’s world, the challenges most of us face have shifted from immediate physical threats to unending or chronic emotional ones. The term “stress” has become a generic term that we commonly use instead of specifically describing feelings as varied as frustration, exhaustion, anxiety, worry, grief, fear and despair. Yet these emotions, generated by stress, can trigger the same flight-or-fight response system that our body deploys to survive a close encounter with a lion, without, however, the release of escaping from that encounter and restoring homeostasis.

There are three distinct categories of stress which, taking my cue from Dr. Scholz’s Blue Shades of prostate cancer, I have designated GREEN, BLINKING YELLOW and FLASHING RED to indicate the different stress levels.

It is important to point out that not all stress is harmful. Brief episodes of stress heighten our alertness, sharpen our senses and actually improve immune function. It is what the flight-or-fight response was designed for and I consider them as GREEN stress responses.

The second category—BLINKING YELLOW—is referred to by researchers as “tolerable stress.” This is stress that could become harmful, however we have the capacity to recover though relationships, and through practices like regular exercise, meditation, healthy eating and adequate sleep. Though we are still disturbed by episodes of BLINKING YELLOW stress, if we recognize and respond to them at their onset, we are able to regain and restore internal balance.

Prolonged or toxic stress is the FLASHING RED variety.  In the grip of toxic stress, we don’t fully regain our equilibrium because the healing relationships and practices that may have worked with tolerable stress are insufficient and thus no longer successful. If it accumulates in our bodies, toxic stress “dysregulates” the systems that protect health and healing.

Some wags have suggested that a few large margaritas or smoking dope might help! But the hard fact is: When the BLINKING YELLOW occurs you need to act, to use available remedies so you do not progress to the toxic, FLASHING RED degree of stress. Strange to say (And I found it a pleasant surprise) activities like meditation and yoga seem to do the most to reestablish homeostatic balance. 

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