Our interpretation of the nature of the demand and how well we feel able to cope with it depends on our experience of past events, our beliefs, attitudes, expectations and needs. These in turn depend on our genetic inheritance, personality, education, upbringing, age, sex and general state of health (Figure 6).

The body’s response

Bearing in mind the interpretative processes going on, we can now relate how we view the situation to how the body responds physiologically to produce the appropriate level and types of stress response activation.

The appropriate response is ultimately achieved by altering the activity of the body organs to prepare the body for action. It is the job of particular chemical messengers in the body to alter organ activity. Different messengers produce different effects; for instance, one particular messenger speeds up the heart beat, while another messenger may effect a decrease in the heart rate.

The type and amount of messenger required for a particular task is decided by the brain after it has received information from the senses about the nature of the demand:

Figure 6 factors affecting coping ability

‚ Is it life threatening?‚

‚ Does it need to be dealt with immediately or can it wait?‚ The brain also assesses how we feel about the situation:

‚ Can I face up to it?‚

‚ Am I in control of the situation?‚

‚ I am angry about this‚

‚ I am concerned about this‚

The brain also recalls information from its memory store about what was learned in previous encounters.

‚ What did I do in this situation before?‚

‚ This is a new experience, I’ll have to tread carefully with this one‚

All these pieces of information are taken into consideration for a decision on the most appropriate course of action. Once a decision has been reached it is transmitted to part of the brain called the hypothalamus which sets in motion the various chemical messengers required to bring about a response by the body. This response takes the following sequence: ‚ ON YOUR MARKS – ‹“Here is a demand I have to deal with’ Brain collects information, processes it, assesses the situation and decides on a course of action.

‚ GET SET – Preparing to deal with the demand

Brain (hypothalamus) activates stress response to a degree relative to the interpreted nature and importance of the demand.

‚GO – Dealing with the demand

Type of resulting action depends on interpretation of situation and emotions.

Let us take two situations and examine them in terms of what is happening within the categories of ‹“On your marks’, ‹“Get set’ and ‹“Go’.

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