Eustress, distress and Kava Kava
Is all stress bad? Does every stressful situation involve risks to the proper functioning of our body (sleep, blood pressure, biorhythm, homeostasis, emotional control)? Should we avoid stress at all costs? Not necessarily! What is the difference between eustress and distress? Let’s find out!
What is stress?
Stress is the body’s natural reaction to a stressor, i.e. a threatening situation. In a basic sense, stress is our evolved survival instinct.
The appearance of a stressor disrupts the organism’s state of equilibrium: the management of resources is altered, and they become focused on the best possible response to the threat. To react faster, to act more efficiently in adverse conditions, to exert effort. The key reactions take place at the hormonal level.
Many things have changed since we came out of the caves. Stressors can be both real-world situations, but also more subjective factors such as social pressure, ambition, status, emotional shocks and needs, a sense of fulfilment, interpersonal interactions… What has not changed is the body’s basic response.
In the concept of Hans Selyes, the forerunner of stress research and creator of the term, stress can be divided into 3 phases – making up the GAS – General Adaptation Syndrome:
- Alarm reaction stage – concentration and motor parameters increase, changes in hormonal economy occur
- Resistance stage – the body adapts to the stressor: we master the situation and cope with the challenge, or the situation overwhelms us and we succumb to it.
- Exhaustion stage – this occurs when the challenge proves too great and the permanent stress lasts too long.
Here, however, additional questions arise: how long can the body function in a state of emergency? When does ‘ordinary’ stress turn into debilitating chronic stress? What are the different symptoms of different levels of stress and when should one start to worry?
The answers relate to two basic divisions of stress. Stress can be divided into two categories::
eustress – distress
short-term stress – chronic stress
What is eustress?
Eustress is what is known as positive stress, i.e. situations that stimulate action, motivate effort and achieve goals despite adversity.
Eustress can be an energy boost, a factor that improves concentration, endurance, efficiency. It is usually short-lived. When it passes – the body safely returns to balance and rebuilds its resources.
Examples of eustress:
- a new job or project that we judge to be an exciting challenge
- physical exertion connected with achieving a goal that gives fulfilment
- creative activities and opportunities for self-expression, self-expression
- interpersonal relationships giving a sense of belonging and purpose – shared emotional effort (e.g. cheering)
What is distress?
Distress is negative stress: depleting resources, paralysing, unproductive, impairing defences, concentration, decision-making ability, putting people in a state of irritability, over-stimulation or apathy, anxiety or flightiness.
There is also a distinction between neustress, which is a stressor induced by a stressor of a more subjective nature: depending on the individual, it can be neutral, eustress or distress.
Short-term and chronic stress: what are the symptoms of stress?
The point at which short-term stress develops into chronic (long-term) stress can be identified by its symptoms.
Short-term stress generally causes symptoms that pass relatively quickly:
- muscle tension (especially neck and back, but also facial muscles)
- agitation, including motor hyperactivity
- increased heart rate
- shallow breathing, shortness of breath, dry mouth
- abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea
- skin irritability, redness
- dilated pupils
The body does not know how long it will be exposed to the stressor – the management of resources and the flow of hormones, especially on the so-called HPA axis: hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal gland, is momentarily altered, resulting in, among other things, stimulated production of cortisol (the fight-or-flight hormone) and adrenaline.
Increased blood pressure is accompanied by an increase in blood glucose. At the same time, digestive processes are inhibited. Once the resistance stage is reached and the stressor is no longer perceived as a threat – the symptoms should pass and the body should return to a state of equilibrium, or homeostasis.
What is chronic stress?
Chronic, or long-term, stress is a stressor that has a long-lasting effect (without breaks to allow the body to recover properly). In this case, the stage of resilience does not bring about a calming effect and a stage of exhaustion follows. The effects of exhaustion can emerge over time, be long-lasting, more difficult to mitigate and even develop into illnesses, including chronic psychosomatic illnesses.
Symptoms of chronic stress
- heart and blood circulation problems – chest pain, hypertension, disruption of proper coagulation, platelet aggregation (clumping)
- headaches, migraines
- muscle pains – especially in the back, neck stiffness
- sleep disorders – problem with falling asleep, shallow and interrupted sleep, impaired regenerative function of sleep
- reduced immunity (we get sick more often, lose energy more easily)
- erectile and menstrual cycle disorders
- difficulties with breathing
- hypersensitivity, constant irritability, nervousness, aggression, constant anxiety, racing thoughts and extreme emotions, impaired cognitive functions (memory, concentration, analysis, planning), outbursts of crying, tics
- increased cholesterol
- flushing, acne, rashes
- problems with the digestive system
- hair loss
- rheumatic problems
Chronic stress: the most serious risks
- heart attack
- brain stroke
- hyperthyroidism and autoimmune Graves’ disease
- schizophrenia and other mental illnesses
Hormones and chronic stress
We associate stress primarily with increased cortisol levels and thyroid function, but that is not all. We can ‘sense’ increased cortisol in, among other things, our lowered mood and decreased daily wellbeing. Chronic stress also causes a decrease in dopamine and serotonin levels, which exacerbates the lack of joy, sense of purpose, motivation and translates into lowered self-esteem, ability to act, vital energy.
Elevated adrenaline levels are responsible for a number of the aforementioned stress symptoms. Adrenaline – in its long-term effects – can stress the heart and circulatory system, the immune system, the muscular system (prolonged tension and stiffness), but also cause rheumatic problems – hence pain in the spine, knees (generally joints), shoulders.
Kava Kava and stress
Kava Kava is renowned as a remedy for stress. It is considered a Pacific adaptogen, which enables the body to adapt more efficiently to emergency situations – situations of danger and stress response. How does Kava work?
- Kava calms the nervous system by reducing over-stimulation – primarily through its effects on the neurotransmitter GABA: greater binding of natural gamma aminobutyric acid naturally reduces over-stimulation of the system
- Kava’s active ingredients – kavalactones – are evaluated as MAO inhibitors: MAO inhibitors enable elevated levels of dopamine and serotonin, among others. Hence their use in antidepressants.
- Kava acts not only on the head, but also on the body – relieves muscle tension, has a local anaesthetic effect
- Kava is known to support healthy and restorative sleep: it facilitates falling asleep and improves the quality of sleep – more
- the therapeutic use of Kava also includes the treatment of anxiety
- Kava does not interfere with clarity of thought, and can even enhance cognitive performance
- for people who try to relieve stress with alcohol – Kava is an ideal alternative: both for drinking alone and with friends!
- Kava improves the daily mood and facilitates interpersonal relationships
- on top of that, Kava is fully natural!
Stress is an integral part of our lives. However, when it becomes too intense or prolonged, it is worth taking care of the inner balance. This is what Kava is for – to effectively combat stress and regain joy in life!