You might think of stress as innately negative, believe it or not that isn’t always the case. Just as the muscles and bones need physical exercise to stay strong, we also need certain amounts of stress to stay healthy. Actually, a complete lack of stress would not be a good thing. There are six major types of stress, each having “positives” or “negatives”.
- Physical stress
- Chemical stress
- Electromagnetic stress
- Psychic of Mental stress
- Nutritional stress
- Thermal stress
Physical stress in the form of movement or exercise is very beneficial. The actual stress comes from loading the muscles and bones of our body under the influence of gravity. Astronauts in space need regular exercise in order to counteract the loss of bone and muscle mass that occurs under zero gravity conditions.
Adequate movement and exercise also helps us to maintain an optimal metabolic rate, keeping us from becoming overweight. (Metabolic rate is the rate at which all physical and chemical processes take place within your body.) Considering that only about 8% of men and 3% of women exercise regularly, and that about 60% of Americans are overweight at present, it is evident that we are in great need of more of this good stressor.
Over-exercising can be every bit as bad as not exercising enough. While under-exercising can contribute to becoming overweight and lead to metabolic dysfunction, over-exercising can cause immune system suppression. This can lead to increased incidence of upper respiratory infection, chronic fatigue and a number of other ailments. Extreme exercise for athletes is often linked to poor performance and increased incidence of injury.
Another form of adverse physical stress is poor posture. Posture has a significant influence on breathing, muscle function, joint health, circulation and internal organ support. When the body structure is not in balance, the rest of the system follows.
Our bodies are full of chemicals – naturally produced chemicals that are essential for health. The work of producing these key chemicals is a necessary stress for the body. For example, when your body systems are working correctly, exercise results in chemical adaptations in the form of hormonal changes that alter your biochemistry to increase protein synthesis, energy production and a myriad of other chemical reactions. The action of sunlight on the skin results in the production of vitamin D and the regulation of the hormones melatonin and cortisol – both chemical reaction. Plant and animal foods (ideally organically-cultivated) are made up of organic chemicals – vitamins, enzymes, proteins and fats that we need to survive.
In this day and age, we are bombarded with thousands upon thousands of chemicals that were not around one hundred years ago. Many of these chemicals are synthetic, and our bodies do not have mechanisms to neutralize them. Synthetically manufactured medical drugs, such as aspirin, are among the most common forms of unfavorable chemical stress. Other examples of dangerous chemical stressors are agricultural chemicals such as pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and certain fertilizers. These chemicals are often made from the same formulas used to make biological weapons, yet nearly two billion pounds of these chemicals are sprayed on our foods each year in the U.S. alone. Many health problems have been linked to this form of chemical stress.
Indeed, one the most beneficial forms of electromagnetic stress is sunlight. Without sunlight, we simply would not be alive. The electromagnetic field of the earth is also a good form of this kind of stress. This invisible field helps control the rhythm of our hormones and other physiological function. A common example of the earth’s electromagnetic effects can be experienced when weather patterns change. At the onset of a thunderstorm, many people feel changes in their joints, muscles and even their moods.
The most obvious form of bad electromagnetic stress is over-exposure to sunlight, resulting in sunburn. In Australia and New Zealand, the ultraviolet rays are poorly filtered by the thin ozone layer. This means you can begin to burn in under 12 minutes on a summer day. Most people know that overexposure to radiation such as medical X-rays can also be harmful to your health. Often overlooked is the extremely low frequency (ELF) pollution emitted by electronic devices such as computers, cell phones and towers, WiFi routers, microwave ovens, electric motors, your TV, and even electric blankets and heaters. Many of these forms of stress are insidious, causing dysfunction in your hormonal and autonomic nervous system.
Thinking and using your mind productively represents good mental stress. Having a plan or setting goals in your life and doing the work to achieve them is also a positive form of this stress. Other examples include overcoming adversity to become a stronger, better person. Without mental stress, our minds would not fully develop.
A common form of bad mental stress is focusing on things that you do not want in life instead of what you do want. Other forms of mental stress include verbal abuse from others, studying so much that your mental faculties begin to diminish, and challenging religious or spiritual beliefs that are imposed upon you – even if self-imposed. Being rushed or taking on more work or responsibility than you can manage will also produce unhealthy mental stress.
Eating in accordance personal diet type, eating organic foods, and not over- or under-eating are all representative of good nutritional stress. In these instances, the term stress is used to indicate the stress of digestion, assimilation, metabolism of foods. For example, your body must be stressed with the challenge of extracting the nutrition from your food or it will become weak, much like a person’s muscles become weak if you put them in a sling or cast and do not use them.
Eating too much, too little, or eating the wrong food proportions for your personal diet type are unhealthy forms of nutritional stress. Consuming foods with toxins such as pesticides, herbicides, food preservatives, colorings, thickeners, emulsifiers, and the like can be very stressful to the body as well. This type of stress from food may be responsible for a large percentage of disease today.
Maintaining your body temperature at 98.6°F (37°C) is the most obvious of the good thermal stressors. When it is hot or cold outside, the thermoregulatory system is stressed in order to keep your internal temperature constant. It is good to stress this system now and again to maintain its dynamic capacity.
Anything that burns you is a form of adverse thermal stress. In addition, the opposite thermal stress would be anything that brings your body temperature too low for an extended period of time.