It is interesting to note that stress is not produced just from things considered to be bad or harmful. Stress reactions are produced by the anticipation of seeing a long-lost friend or relative, the promise of intense pleasure, or the ecstasy of fulfillment. From this perspective, it may be assumed that everything is or has the capacity to produce stress. Thus, life is stress.
Discipline in the form of exercise, meditation, diet, and abstinence qualifies as a stressor but so does indulgence to excess. This produces stress in related areas. In moderation, these stressors have the capability of being rejuvenating. They are filled with the potential for self-enhancement, again demonstrating that “everything is what it isn’t.” Looking more closely at some common examples, it is easy to see the unlimited possibilities for stress to be experienced and for distress to be manifested. Consider the occurrence of a simple itch on the arm. The initial response usually involves scratching it a couple of times to relieve the immediate physical discomfort. The stress is experienced and resolved. It is primarily a temporary physical experience at this stage.
However, when bombarded repetitively by inordinate amounts of what the body perceives as stress, a number of specific mechanisms are employed in reply. Observe this progression as a simple itch becomes more persistent. A more aggressive scratching is employed to subdue the itch, while adding some topical agent known to be effective in neutralizing such concerns. The body, on the other hand, initiates a first-stage response to the acute stress. This includes a flood of hormones from a portion of the adrenal glands called the medulla. This reaction, in turn, stimulates the body to engage the stress. Once this mechanism has been successful in neutralizing the stress, the body resumes its natural state of balance or homeostasis. Should the stress persist, the body proceeds into a more motivated effort to adapt. Additional hormones are secreted in an attempt to manage the source of the stress, rather than conquer it.
As the itch persists and develops into a chronic skin condition, long-term exposure to the stress depletes the ability of the body to adapt at this level. This results in a collapse and loss of function in related areas of the body, producing dysfunction or disease in a part of the body anatomically unconnected to the original source of the stress. This typically occurs first in the adrenal stress system and subsequently in susceptible aspects of the immune system. Having little or no reserves with which to continue to respond, the body becomes susceptible to assault from additional stressors. The result, at best, is usually a compromised immune system.