Stress isn’t a new phenomenon that exists to make us modern day humans suffer, sometimes on a daily basis, it has in actual fact been around forever – it’s controlled via the sympathetic nervous system, a deeply ingrained physiological response. This ‘response’ has served the race of humankind very well throughout the ages and in the days of our pre-historic ancestors; the stress response was simply “fight or flight”.
The stresses we face in today’s society are unlikely to be life or death, but the response we act out is exactly the same.
Stress is nothing more than a behavioural state. The great news is that we can learn to manage and minimise the effect ‘stress’ has on us – but it does require some work up front.
What is Stress?
Stress can largely be described as such “when the boundaries within a certain area are being stressed. Just as the fibres on a rope become stressed when tension is applied, the same happens with our thinking and physiology” (Benjamin Bonnetti)
Stress is more about the response we have internally than the external factors that are forced upon us such as deadlines or lateness.
More good news! We can learn to control the degree to which we get stressed irrespective of the external factors placed upon us.
What Causes Stress?
Events (triggers) that cause us to react into a stress response are numerous and individuals will relate to situations differently. For some, getting caught up in traffic or perhaps waiting in the queue at the checkout may trigger a stress response while for others it may take a hungry lion chasing them to engage the stress response.
Whatever the triggers are – the physiological way in which we respond to stress is the same.
What Happens When We Get Stressed?
Finding ourselves in stressful situations causes a surge of hormones in your body, causing the hypothalamus to react by stimulating the body to produce hormones that include adrenaline and cortisol.
Your body is an amazing instrument and has a particular way in which to respond to increased danger or challenging situations. Physiologically the body will create hormones to help you fight or run from the imminent danger (Adrenaline, Noradrenaline and Cortisol).
Physically we have an increase in breathing which allows us to take in more oxygen while sugars being released from the liver into the bloodstream help us should we need to run quickly.
An increase in heart rate allows us to increase the rate of delivery of sugars and oxygen to the parts of the body that need it most such as your muscles and brain. At this stage too, cholesterol is being released into your bloodstream – cholesterol is a blood thickening agent which helps clot blood should you sustain an injury and lastly your body defers all non-essential functions (such as food digestion) until the danger is passed.<
This example is great if we have a tiger chasing us – but in today’s workplace and family life the danger is that these chemicals and hormones are being delivered to the body for prolonged periods of time. Deadlines are ever present, family commitments are always in our minds – it is this prolonged exposure to the physical responses to stress that is responsible for today’s stress related illnesses.
What Can We Do To Overcome Stress?
Ahh the golden question!
The real answer is – you can’t. I should qualify that – you can’t ever overcome the stress response as it’s a physiological response remember, but you can work on minimising the time you are in response mode but better still look at how you came to be in that situation in the first place.
To minimise the stress response, you have to change the way you think. There are exercises you can do to help identify your stressors, how you react and look at your behaviour throughout the stress cycle.
This is an area which affects us all, across the board and in numerous ways can completely devastate people’s lives. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Some activities you can try easily yourself:
- Breathing – I’m not talking about the “normal breathing that you have to do to live” kind of breathing. I’m talking about closed eyes, counting down from 10 and focusing on each and every breath.
Nice deep breaths. Many call it mindfulness. I just call it deep breathing. If it doesn’t work the first time, I try to do it a couple more times until it does work.
- Take a walk – I’m not talking miles here. Just a simple jaunt in the fresh air helps to calm me. 5-10 minutes, and I usually begin to feel better. Obviously, the longer I walk, the better I feel, but usually a quick walk helps quite a bit.
- Listen to music – usually people will expect me to say ‘calming music’, but whatever does it for you, works for me!
Hope that’s helped someone out there?