Every human experiences stress to a different degree on a daily basis in their lives and many times this stress can actually be good for the body. For negative stress, the body and mind have ways to cope that help to keep the body from going into shock.
Charles Joseph Popov, Founder of Resiliency BHS and Geographia, uses his life’s experiences to help counsel his patients and understands that each individual is unique. He approaches counseling in a manner that allows patients to find their inner strength, teaching them that they have the ability to overcome their problems. Stress is one of the most common reasons for patients seeking help and Mr. Popov outlines that the body has its own ability to cope with stress.
The Human Psyche
The human psyche is a combination of both the conscious and unconscious human mind and the study of it is referred to as psychology. The word psyche comes from the Greek language meaning “life” in relation to breathing, which is derived from the Greek word psycho, or to blow. The study of the human mind in both psychology and philosophy can be traced back to ancient times, showing that humans have always had a keen interest in learning about the mind, especially to gain an understanding from a scientific point of view. While there have been many famous scholars that have studied the field, two of the most famous are Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung and both psychologists made it clear that both the unconscious and conscious mind helped to create each individual psyche.
The official definition of stress from the National Institute of Mental Health is “the brain’s response to any demand”. Stress can be either acute or chronic, causing temporary stress over a short-term event such as getting to work on time or having an argument with someone. Chronic stress is one that occurs over a longer period of time and can be caused by a demanding work environment, a strained relationship, and many times the root cause can be financial. Chronic stress is particularly worrisome to healthcare professionals as it can be harmful to the body, brain, and psyche, notes Charles Joseph Popov. While some say stress is good as it keeps people on their toes and getting things done, over time, stress causes physiological changes that can alter a person’s personality, behavior, and actions.
Both environmental and internal stressors lead to the activation of the stress response system, a series of physiological changes in the body made to help adapt an individual to stress. The primary system involves the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical (HPA) axis, which is responsible for the eventual release of the stress hormone, cortisol. A rapid increase in cortisol leads to higher blood glucose levels, a rapid heart rate, and more blood flow to skeletal muscles. Historically and through evolution, Charles Popov explains that this is due to humans’ need for a fight or flight response.
When under stress, the psyche knows what the body cannot achieve and the body regulates itself to optimize itself to help overcome the stress in a physical manner. As the stress subsides, the system regulates itself to bring cortisol levels back to normal. Chronic stress leads to a stress response system that is always active, causing both mental and physical health issues, such as endocrine, digestive, musculoskeletal, and can cause disruption in one’s sleep. Chronically high cortisol levels can also decrease the effectiveness of the immune system, leading to an increased chance of illnesses.
Charles Joseph Popov on Coping
As the body and mind begin to feel the effects of stress, the psyche helps to regulate by working to help counteract the stress in both a conscious and unconscious manner, explains Charles Joseph Popov. In psychology, there are many defense mechanisms that the unconscious mind uses to help reduce the feelings of stress, while the conscious mind seeks out ways to cope on its own. The unconscious mind can use sensitization as a technique to increase the threshold at which we feel stress.
Over time, the mind learns of how to react to certain stimuli and how to alter behavior to better cope with that stimulus, leading to less feelings of stress. If a certain situation feels familiar, the mounted stress response likely won’t be as high as it would’ve been the first time. The mind becomes sensitized to stressful situations, making them easier to cope with in the future.
Dissociation is another defense mechanism, through which certain thoughts or mental processes are compartmentalized, explains Charles Popov. This helps reduce stress experienced by the conscious mind, alleviating the need to have to deal with a certain stressor. For example, stress felt at work may be able to be left at work, rather than bringing that stress home and continually thinking about it. The psyche helps provide an escape for the mind, allowing it to cope with the stress through avoidance. The conscious mind on its own helps cope with stress by understanding that it is in fact dealing with stress. Once the mind has been alerted to the stress, humans can work to reduce the stress through coping mechanisms such as yoga, music therapy, and working towards a more balanced lifestyle.