Did you know stress is actually a good thing? In the right time and the right amounts, stress can be used to meet deadlines, accomplish massive goals, both physical and mental, strive for doing better than before and back in the caveman days, stop you from dying! See the chemical reaction in the body caused by stress is directly associated with our fight or flight reaction and back when predators were waiting at your local watering hole, this came in handy!
But stress is quite different now, seeing we are the biggest predators we don't really need this chemical reaction as much as we did but human evolution hasn't figured out how to back it out of the hard drive.
Stress can be caused by any number of things, financial strain, peer pressure, social anxiety, pressure to perform or succeed just to name a few. Stress can be physical, mental or emotional strain or tension, and it can be one or all of these at any time. Stress can be the body's automatic response to a situation that requires us to change or adapt, this can be acute as in a one off event or chronic as in an on going situation or accumulation of events. Stress can also be defined as a persons perception of an experience that demands more personal resources then they feel they can mobilise.
As mentioned above, a stressful situation can be positive and leave you feeling elated and stimulated but in a negative way can leave you feeling overwhelmed and under pressure.
Our response to a stressful situation is quite complex, a whole myriad of chemical reactions start to occur. Muscles tense due to being signalled by the brains motor cortex, the hypothalamus passes on warning to the pituitary glands, which then sends chemical messages to the adrenal glands. Adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol are the stress hormones released by the autonomic nervous system, these can take effect on the body in physical form by clenched tummy, dry mouth, sweaty palms, increased heart rate, release of glucose in the blood stream and sharpened senses. When you feel the need to sit down and have a cup of tea after an acute reaction to a stressful situation, as in you just saw your car slide down the driveway after you left the handbrake off, your body is showing you it needs time to recover. Your body also needs time to recover from ongoing stressful situations, work load or family troubles for example, you may not feel the physical effects as acutely but those autonomic reactions are still happening inside you, and your body still needs time to recover.
How? Well simple things like resting, getting good sleep, eating a fresh and balanced diet, getting enough exercise, clearing the mind and one thing that is fantastic for relieving stress symptoms is having a good ol chat! Not even joking, talking to someone who is actively listening to you, releases good hormones in the body like oxytocin, dopamine and endorphins which help to produce feelings of wellbeing and calm and can actually reduce the release of cortisol which acts like an antioxidant in our bodies! All of these things teaches our vagal nerve to come into action when needed and reduce the allostatic load on the body, which helps to combat symptoms of stress such as gloominess, depression, fears, social anxiety and in some cases chronic disease.
Which brings me to my next point, the relationship between stress and chronic disease is something that is being more researched now and for good reason. I noted how the body releases crazy-destruction-loving hormones like cortisol during times of stress, well when the stress response is not counteracted with relaxation and recovery the response can kick in with the slightest provocation, which causes severe physical strain on the body. The automatic and constant release of stress hormones can have negative effects on the heart, lungs, digestive system, muscles, reproductive organs, adrenals and immunity. Cortisol, the naughtiest one, converts food into fat, increases/decreases appetite and blocks insulin, all of which can lead to type 2 diabetes and inflammation.
Our stress responses are all different, some deal with it better than others and the factors of why that is can be a number of things. Our upbringing and genetics play a part, whether we are optimistic or pessimistic by nature, how we perceive an event or how we interpret that event too can attribute to our stress response and our environmental influences can all effect how stress effects out lives. Stress can lead to or be associated with depression and anxiety, which is why it is so important to always ask friends and family if they're ok, sometimes all they need is someone to care and to be heard for all the good hormones to play a role in helping aid recovery and not get stuck into deep dark holes.
How can we deal with stress better? As mentioned above, it is important to let our bodies recover by eating and exercising etc but there are a few other things we can try. You can also help your body by learning to increase immunity to an event or situation that causes you stress, by simply thinking before acting and asking yourself, "What is the good that can come from this situation?" Try breathing exercises in times of stress, not all the times but sometimes the difference between reacting well and not very well to a situation is in a few long, deep breaths which changes your reaction to the stressor. Then there's always removing yourself from the stressor, if it is something you can remove from your life, than do it, it can't stress you if it's not in your life!
Being more mindful can also help, NLP can help turn a negative into a positive, Tapping or EFT, knowing what stresses you out, learning what the triggers are and when it is time to step away for a break are all things we can do to lessen the effects of stress on our bodies. I love to use essential oils, when I'm feeling stressed about something taking 20mins to step away and use the powers of aromatherapy to help me relax and focus is all I need to feel refreshed and more confident, its all about finding what works for you.
Thanks for having a read, I hope it has helped give you a better understanding of what stress is, what it does and how we can cope better x Alana