Updated: Apr 13
Living in stress is living in survival mode. They are one and the same. Stress is when our body moves out of the normal homeostatic balance. When we react to something the body produces numerous chemical changes that alter the normal physiological/chemical order.
A stressor is something that disrupts the normal chemical balance of the body. And the stress response is what the body does to re-establish normal homeostatic balance.
The human being is basically an animal, and like all animals the stress response is built into the body. It is there to save us from danger. For example, the deer, notices a predator ready to attack. The deer’s body goes into stress mode. The Sympathetic Nervous System is switched on. Heart rate and blood pressure is increase, blood goes to the limbs in order to run, eyesight and hearing become enhanced. The deer fleas running as fast as it can out manoeuvring its predator as it goes.
Once the deer has escaped, and the threat has no longer there, the body then calms, the Parasympathetic Nervous System takes over, the blood which was in the limbs now returns to the organs. The stress response is a good thing in short spurts and animals use it well. Humans on the other hand, do not use this system well. In far too many cases the Sympathetic Nervous System is switched on and left on.
In short, it is important to understand that how we react to our environment or how we think in response to some past, present or future moment that may be stressful, is responsible for most of the ailments both physical and emotional from which we suffer.
When we repeatedly and chronically place ourselves in high stress mode, or when we are hyper-vigilant in looking for stressors that may affect us at some future point (anxiety), we engage the body’s emergency response to stress all the time. Being continually on high alert or in emergency mode, does not give the body time or the resources necessary to repair and regenerate itself.
Recent estimates indicate that as many as 90% of all the people seeking medical care are doing so because of stress related disorders. More and more researchers are establishing links between physical illnesses and extreme emotional conditions and reactions.
Uncontrolled reactions to the stressors in our lives leads to other emotional problems like anger, anxiety, depression, harming of the self or others and the deterioration of our relationships.
Another way to look at stress is that it is the result of perceiving that we are no longer in control of the elements in our environment, because we can't predict the desired outcome.
Among the other primary functions that can be affected by stress, one of the most crucial is our immune system. Once that system is compromised or shuts down completely, we're unable to fight invaders like bacteria and viruses, so we can be ravaged by infections and dogged by illness. In particular, we can suffer from immune-mediated diseases like allergies, infectious influenza, even Rheumatoid Arthritis.
Our immune system cannot detect early tumour cells and discard them, when we are fighting an emergency elsewhere requiring all our energy. Cancer cells can reproduce rapidly when the immune system is shut down in response to constant stress. Quite simply, the more we negatively react to the stressors in our lives, the more frequently we get sick, and the effects of a compromised immune system show up in many forms.
Recent evidence suggests that cortisol, one of the chemicals produced during the stress response, is responsible for degenerating brain cells in the hippocampus. This organ is responsible for helping us form new memories and acquire new knowledge. If we damage the neurological machinery that craves new things, we end up craving routine instead of novelty. We cannot learn, make new memories, and explore new adventures, because the organ that makes new memories is breaking down. This breakdown of neurons in the hippocampus reverts us to doing only what is familiar and avoiding what is unknown. This condition triggers mental illness such as depression, dementia and Alzheimer's.
Stress increases our blood sugar levels by alerting the output of the pancreas, the liver and other storage mechanisms. When the body is subjected to chronic stress, the blood sugar levels are repeatedly increased and the insulin levels lowered. Adult onset of diabetes as well as obesity can come from this stressful conditioning.
Through calming the mind in meditation, acceptance, increasing the distance between stimulus and response, and developing new positive ways to respond, we can lower our stress levels and improve our health.
It is not the stressful environment which triggers the stress response in our bodies but the way our minds process the stressor.
Stress Management is the use of certain techniques which trains the mind to reduce the negative reactions to the stressors in life. Below is a variety of techniques which can be used:
- Enhance time management skills
- Take on less work or delegate it
- Take frequent breaks
- Improve your communication skills
- Noticing the physiological cues of stress
- Learn and practice an effective relaxation technique.
- Take deep slow breaths.
- Distance yourself from a stressor
- Distance yourself from negative people
- Regular exercise
- Reduce caffeine intake
- Get more sleep
- Eat a well balanced diet
- Watch funny movies and laugh
- Stop watching the news
Of course this list in not exhaustive but finding support is a big step in the right direction. It could be a personal fitness trainer or a mindfulness trainer or coach, or stress management counsellor and or even a combination of the above. I believe that since everything starts in the mind then training it should definitely be a part of the process in managing stress. The main thing is to take action.
Adrian Spear - Mindfulness Trainer & Counsellor has a proven path to help you manage your negative responses to the stressors in your life. Get in contact with us for more information.