Effects of Stress

The effects of stress present a complex picture- — one with many pieces one must understand to get a true picture of what is going on.
The effects of stress present a complex picture- — one with many pieces one must understand to get a true picture of what is going on.


by Murray Johannsen. October 25, 2014. 


Often ask audiences this question, “How many of you are routinely feel too much stress?” Almost everyone raises the hand. Then follow-up with: How many of you want to feel no stress? Again almost everyone will raise their hand

 Sometimes I will Ask again, “do any of you know any group of people who experience no stress? Most people don’t get it but one person raised his hand and say, “I know of such a group.”

And I said, “Go ahead.” And the person said, “People that reside in the cemeteries.”

And that is the nature of the challenge. Stress is part of you life. The question is whether you it controls you or you control it. 

We are going to cover two major topics:

The Nature of the Stress — How it affects the mind and body

Stress and Performance —Mostly bad news here, a tragedy that affects hundreds of millions

  It turns out stress is a part of life, often due to factors beyond our control.v Let’s illustrate this with a story.

Typically, this type of car produces stress.
A Michigan state police car. Typically, this type of car produces stress when it is seen.


A police officer pulls over a man and wife for speeding. The officer goes, Sir, do you know you where breaking the speed limit? The man relies, “no I’m sure I wasn’t, was I dear.” His wife replies, “You know darn well you were going at least 75 miles per hour.” The officer then said, “Well, I’m also going to have to cite you for a broken tail light.” The man replies, “My that just happened, didn’t it dear.” His wife relies, “Actually that light has been broken for months.” The officer then says, “Also, I’m going to write you up for not wearing your seat belt. The man goes, “I just took it off as we were pulling over, isn’t that right dear.” His wife say, “Actually, my husband never wears his seat belt.”

Finally, the man could take no more and screamed at his wife, “If you can’t help me, why don’t you just keep your mouth shut.” The officer then said to the wife, “Is he always this mean?” To which the wife responded, “Only when he’s drunk.”

At one level, this story describes a husband and wife under stress. (well, actually under distress). It’s a classic example of what is called acting out.

To understand why they behaved the way they did, we need to go back into history.

The Fight or Flight Response

Image by: Clément Bardot


In 1914, Walter Cannon (or Hans Syle depending on who you belief) coined an easy to remember phrase — “The Fight or Flight response” to characterize the built-in response to threats and danger (Reference xxx).

Makes actually makes sense if you happen to see a tiger in the parking lot.

However, it makes less sense to have this response kick in when the boss frowns and says, “I notice you didn’t earn your salary again, today.”

Johannsen’s Fight, Fight or Freeze Response

However, I have always considered the the statement to not be the accurate and how use this instead. We should call it the Fight, Flight, or Freeze Response.” (Johannsen, 2014).  The response has to do with anxieties impact on action. It there is a stressor associated with a particular behavior, there is an in-built tendency to procrastinate or not do it an all. Stress, in-effect, causes inaction when action is what is really needed.

The freeze response is very, very common but we label it as procrastination. And if procrastination continues, it is a block. In the real world of organizations, procrastination is overcome by other external stressors, real or imaginary.

For example, if one doesn’t do want the boss wants, we imagine something bad anger. And to avoid the imaginary catastrophy, we propel ourselves forward. For example, we fee anxious over doing a presentation but the boss is the boss and we do it anyway because we don’t want to lose


The Effects of Extreme Stress on the Mind

Image by: Cinegiak. Film Poster of “The Dark Side of the Mind”


Unless you have ever had class in abnormal psychology, one often doesn’t realize the importance of stress in mental illness. In fact, there is a whole mess of these.  The current Diagnostic Statistical Manual IV (soon to be 5) published by the American Psychiatric Society.  To be more accurate, there

The Anxiety Disorders

Data from: L. N. Robins and D. A. Regier, Eds. Psychiatric Disorders in America: The Epidemiologic Catchment Area Study. New York, NY: The Free Press.


In one recent survey published in the Archives of General Psychology, it was estimated that as many as 18% of American adults suffer from at least one anxiety disorder.

The major anxiety disorders  include:

  • Panic Disorder
  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder
  • Social anxiety disorder
  • Phobias
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder

However, there are other conditions called the somatic disorders. These are conditions in which stress, anxiety and worry cause physical suffering. In other words, the stress is being converted to physical symptoms.

The Effects of Stress on the Body

Image of anterior and posterior views of man’s body. Issued in seven installments by the flamboyant Parisian surgeon Eugène-Louis Doyen (1859-1916)

According to a study done, by the U.S. Department of Heath and Human Services (Rosch and Pelletier, 1987).

“70-90% of the visits to primary care physicians are due to stress related such as backache, headache, insomnia, anxiety, depression, chest pain, hypertension, gastrointestinal and dermatologic complaints 

Stress suppresses the function of the immune system and reduces defenses against viruses, bacteria, and AIDs. 

More than 2.6 million Americans are disabled from chronic back pain

The Centers For Disease Control mentions that

– 67 million adults have hypertension—that is about 1 in 3.

Other sources have said similar things. In a 1991 report relised by Northwestern National Life Insurance Company

Seven in ten American workers indicated that job stress is causing frequent health problems and has made them less productive. The same study reported that Workers who report high stress are three times more likely than workers reporting low stress to suffer from frequent illness (Northwestern National Life Insurance Company

Effects On The Mind-Body

A Journey of Wellbeing – Your life choice. Image by: OXYFIT


In fact, one of the most debilitating very of this is known as panic. Panic attacks are not predictabile. There are essentially irrational but that dos not mean they are easy to control. When you hear people’s descriptions of stress run amuck, you understand why.


Burnout is not a medical term but it can happen. It’s the last thing you wan to have happen if you wan to keep a job. Unfortunately, unlike panic which ends typically will last for around ten minutes, burnout can go on for months. Long enough that you will surly lose your job.The first-time I saw it was at the university.. There was a student who was very committed to here work in student government, working a job, and studying. It all become too much for her and she couldn’t even concentration enough to read books, let along study. So, she ended up dropping out of class for the semester.

Psychosomatic Illness

This is a little harder to understand but it basically says that origen of many physical diseases occurs place in mind. Not necessarily in the conscious mind, it occurs in the unconscious. In fact, there are literally hundreds of being purely psychosomatic or having a psychosomatic component (Sarno, 2006, pg. 2).

I remember sitting in the class when I was getting my pharmacy degree many years ago. I used to call it the master bedroom because it was so easy to fall asleep with your eyes open. But one day, the medicinal chemistry professor said something I never forgot.  He said, “95  percent of all cases of hypertension (high blood pressure) has no definable physical causes.” In other words, your kidneys was working, you were eating a cup of salt a day, etc.

Unfortunately, the medical system is designed to treat the physical symptoms rather than going after the root cause of the problem, which lies somewhere in the mind. Going back to my story, today, as was done in our past, the system is likely to  try to fix the problem with drugs, something that fails to address the route cause, which of course is failure to control stress.


Carretero, OA, (2000). “Essential hypertension. Part I: definition and etiology”. Circulation 101 (3): 329–35.

Diamond DM, et al. (2007). “The Temporal Dynamics Model of Emotional Memory Processing: A Synthesis on the Neurobiological Basis of Stress-Induced Amnesia, Flashbulb and Traumatic Memories, and the Yerkes-Dodson Law”. Neural Plasticity: 33.

Northwestern National Life ([1991]. Employee burnout: America’s newest epidemic. Minneapolis, MN: Northwestern National Life Insurance Company

Rosch, Paul & Pelletier, Ken (1987). Designing Worksite Stress Management Programs. Lawrence Murphy & Schoenborn (Eds.) Stress Management in Workplace Settings. Washington D. C: U.S. H.H.S.

Sarno, John (2006). The Divided Mind: The Epidemic of Mindbody Disorders. Harper Books.

Yerkes, Robert M.  andDodson, John D.  (1908). The Relation of Strength of Stimulus To Rapidity of Habit Formation, Journal of Comparative Neurology and Psychology, 18, 459-482.

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