What is stress?
Stress is everywhere it seems. It’s hard to go a week without hearing that someone is suffering from it, is ill through it or has had to have time off work because of it.
Most of us will have felt stress at some point in our lives whether we experience it through an event like moving house, getting married, an illness or bereavement. Or through ongoing circumstances that are challenging such as unemployment, relationship issues, noisy neighbours or problems at work.
Sometimes we experience stress as a result of having too much to do or having a lack of control over our lives.
We all know what it is, but do we?
Why we need stress?
Our biological history determines our physical reaction to stress. We are designed to respond to physical dangers in one of three ways, fight, flight or freeze.
Although we are no longer hunter/gatherers that need to worry as much about our physical survival our biological reaction to perceived danger has remained the same.
When our fight or flight response is triggered our bodies release the hormones adrenaline and cortisol.
Adrenaline is a hormone secreted by the adrenal glands. It increases the rate our blood circulates, our breathing, heart rate and carbohydrate metabolism. all of which work to increase blood flow to the muscles and oxygen to the lungs preparing our body for fight or flight.
Cortisol is present in our bodies all the time and has a number of important functions including regulating blood pressure, Glucose metabolism and immune function.
When levels increase as they do in response to stress it produces a number of positive effects that include a burst of energy, decreased sensitivity to pain, and an increase in immunity and helps maintain homeostasis in the body.
Although cortisol is an important and helpful part of the body’s response to stress, it’s essential that the body’s relaxation response is activated after a stressful event so that the body’s functions can return to normal.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t always happen. Continued stress results in a build up of cortisol resulting in long term negative effects. These include; Blood sugar imbalances, high blood pressure, suppressed thyroid activity. decrease in muscle mass and increase in abdominal fat.
Why do some people get stressed and others don’t? Our tolerance of stress varies from person to person. What one person sees as stimulating would be unbearable for someone else. What is important to remember is that your body is responding exactly as it should to a threat.
If the threat is physical, the adrenaline that is produced will be used appropriately, you use it to either fight or for flight. As soon as the threat has passed your body begins to recover and you move back into homeostasis.
If the stress if emotional, however the effects of the adrenaline dissipate more slowly and feelings of agitation remain for much longer preventing your body from moving into a relaxation response.
How to manage stress.
As stress is not a medical diagnosis it can go ignored for a long time. The danger of this is that if it continues and is not managed or dealt with it can lead to anxiety and depression.
Recognising that you are stressed is a good starting point. Be aware of the triggers that cause it and try to determine a way of handling them in a more positive way. Learn relaxation techniques and develop a network of friends, family and colleagues that you can rely on.
Stress, it’s not all bad.
It does have its positive side. Short term stress can be highly motivational. Anyone that has had to perform on stage or as a sportsperson will welcome the extra edge that stress provides.
The important thing is that you can to recognise your own triggers and response to stress and develop skills that will help you deal with it and enable you to activate your own relaxation response.
Of course we will be here over the next few weeks to offer you tips and guidance about how to get started. If you ‘re already an expert on managing stress why not share your techniques with us, we would love to hear from you.