Stress is something we have all experienced on some level in our lives and how each of us handles it is as different as there are people. It can be ok to experience a small amount of stress sometimes, in fact our bodies are designed to cope in times of limited stress. It’s the long term chronic stress that we need to recognise that can lead to serious issues. Knowing exactly what it is, how it can affect us and how to deal with it is important if we are to live a long and healthy, fully functioning life. So what is stress and how can we deal with it in a healthy way?
Stress is a physical response to the way we perceive a situation. It is a feeling that arises within the physical body indicating that something we are about to do or need to continue to do is a threat to our survival and in order to survive we need to be ready to respond. Thought around the situation arises in the amygdala and a subconscious evaluation and response
to the situation is made. If the demands exceed our capacity to achieve the outcome at the rest state then a surge of stress hormone is pumped out of the adrenals, creating a (fight-flight response).
The bodies way of dealing with a stressful situation is to dump a lot of adrenaline (flight/fight hormone), as well as norepinephrine, into the system to create a surge of energy and alertness and a rapid fire response so that you can flee from danger, freeze so as to not be seen, or fight back to protect ourselves. When stress becomes outwardly expressed and is more than you can handle your body is actually shouting “do something” but your brain is equally returning a response of “I don’t know what to do” and confusion sets in and we respond in ways that are somewhat primitive and from our reptilian brain.
What causes stress?
Sometimes stress may be necessary for a short amount of time to get us motivated to finish a deadline. Other times our body may respond to a situation that is dangerous and will give a strong signals that something isn’t right, which is a stress response.
Continued stress however, can take a toll on our physical, mental and emotional well-being and impact those around us including those we love. There are times when we aren’t aware that a situation is causing stress until after it is over. Our behaviour can reflect this in ways where we are impatient with friends or family, little things aggravate us and we lash out at those we love.
There are a number of causes of stress including:
- Taking on too much at once (fulling our plate too full)
- Overthinking and overwhelm
- Pressure at work, uni, college
- Deadlines to meet
- Partners or parents who are too demanding
- Family tension
- A death of a loved one or close relative or friend
- Moving house while a number of other things are going on
- Not being able to find a house to live
- Children fighting or other arguments
- Chronic illness
- Small children not sleeping
- Not getting enough sleep
What are the effects of stress on your health?
As more and more people are experiencing greater amounts of pressure to get things done we are seeing higher amounts of illness especially chronic illness playing out in peoples lives. Cortisol levels go up and adrenals are constantly switched on, causing a reduction in minerals and vitamins in the body. If these are not replenished you can end up with deficiencies which will lead to illness. Excessive negative stress will lead to early signs and symptoms that all is NOT well.
MENTAL AND EMOTIONAL SYMPTOMS
- Poor concentration
- Mood Swings
- Panic Attacks
- Lack of confidence
Unfortunately we can try to reduce our symptoms by adopting certain short-term coping strategies which, in the long term, may negatively impact our health.
- Increased alcohol intake
- Use of recreational drugs
- An over consumption of caffeinated drinks to keep energy levels high
- Increased consumption of sugar and chocolate
- Comfort eating
- General muscle tension in upper back, neck and shoulders
- Weight gain
- Tension headaches
- Colds or Flus
- Insomnia-poor sleep quality
- Chronic recurrent illness
- Digestive problems, bloating, discomfort
- Poor appetite
- Stiffness in jaw and teeth grinding
- Substance abuse
- Heart palpitations (fluttering, irregular or fast heartbeat)
LONG-TERM PHYSICAL EFFECTS OF STRESS
- Migraines and recurrent headaches
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Clinical depression
- Chronic Anxiety
- Permanent pain, or lack of mobility and stiffness in the neck and shoulders
- Stomach ulcers
- Reduced immune system function that may lead to chronic inflammatory conditions.
HOW TO DEAL WITH STRESS
There are a number of ways we can deal with stress. First and foremost we must learn to control our breathing. The breathe is our common link to the source of life.
When we are stressed and anxious our breathe is shallow, fast and restricted. We must learn to slow it down, focus on deep breathing so we enable good amounts of oxygen into the blood and brain. When we are stressed our IQ lowers, we become flustered and unable to think clearly. A great technique to learn is to practice counting with the breath in & out. This will slow the heart rate down, decrease the blood pressure, keep the mind focused only on breathing and not on thinking, and activate the parasympathetic nervous system so we become relaxed mentally, then physically. A good number to remember is 6x6x6x6, or called square breathing. As you breathe in you count slowly to six, then hold the breathe for six, then release slowly while counting to six, hold the breathe out for six, then repeat, and do this for a few minutes. Always breathe in and out through your nose and imagine the air moving throughout your body like a wave.
Another way to deal with stress is to bring your awareness into your periphery. you can do this quite easily, although doing it around others may be a little unusual. Give it a try when your working and see how much stress this alleviates. Hold your arms out to the sides with palm facing towards the front of the body. Look up tilting the head slightly and focus on a spot on the wall. Start to wiggle your fingers and slowly bring your hands in towards each other until you can just see them. Keep wiggling the fingers as you take the hands up towards the ceiling. Do this whilst breathing deeply for roughly 1-2mins. Notice how much calmer you feel as your awareness expands around you and your focus is taken off what’s in front of you.
Doing these two things daily can significantly reduce your levels of stress and improve your wellbeing.
For more ways on “How I can lower my stress”.