I’m Ok I’m just Stressed…………How many times have we heard or said this I wonder?
Stressed? We all get stressed and pressures from daily life can cause stress we can all identify with this I’m sure. Let’s take a moment to stop and think about the impact of stress on our psychological and physical wellbeing. At best, stress can help us achieve at work by motivating us to achieve. However, when stress becomes overwhelming it can seriously impact on our physical and mental well being.
What is Stress
Stress is natural and it’s our body’s way of automatically responding to a threat or demand. When we feel threatened, our hypothalamus a tiny part of our brain sets off an alarm system and our body goes into survival mode. Our nervous system reacts, by releasing stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol, which stimulate the body for action. This system is known as the hypothalamus- pituitary- adrenal (HPA) axis. Our heart rate increases muscles tighten, blood pressure rises, our breathing shortens and senses become more acute. These physical changes increase our stamina, strength and quicken how we react. This is known as the “fight or flight” or mobilisation stress response and is your body’s way of protecting you from a perceived threat.
In addition to the HPA axis, the more primitive and instinctual part of the brain known as the ‘reptilian brain’ which is associated with physical survival. It directs movement, circulation, breathing, hunger and reproduction When we respond from this part of the brain, it actually stops the higher functions of our mind from working, such as logic, empathy and seeing the bigger picture. It’s easy to understand how this stops us thinking in a clear and logical way, especially when we add the physical symptoms of stress like sweating, butterflies in the stomach, lightheadedness and increased heart rate hopefully this explains how we can lose clarity when under stress.
In addition our subconscious brain cannot differentiate between reality and imagination, hence real threats and projected fears can feel and create the same levels of fear and stress whether they are real or imagined. This means that our body can react to a imagined threat as if it were real. A great example for this, is waking from a nightmare with physiological symptoms such as sweating and a racing heart. These behaviours are automatic and unconscious. So understandably it is hard to remain rational and calm when we have these experiences.
Under normal conditions stress can be fairly short lived and as soon as the threat is over and adrenaline stops being released, then we can return to state of balance. However, when stress results from repeated exposure to situations that lead to regular and repeated release of the stress hormones released when our fight or flight system is stimulated, we then become more exposed to chronic stress and the serious health risks associated with it. It is widely believed scientifically that our stress response system was not designed to be activated constantly. This overuse contributes to the breakdown of many of our body’s systems.
An upset digestive system is a classic symptom, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes and depression, cardiovascular health is threatened and risk of stroke is possible. Vulnerability to mental health problems are increased. Basically when chronic stress is present our bodily systems deregulate and a domino effect can happen, if the first one falls then the others aren’t far behind.
Although we cannot totally remove stress from our lives completely or indeed at all. We can aim to put in a basic protective structure to support us in general.
Here are some suggestions….
1. Practice deep breathing techniques. Try breathing in for 4 and out for 5 to gently lower anxiety fuelled breathing. Or inhale for 4 hold for 7 and exhale for 8
A couple of suggestions for apps to download are Headapace, Mindshift for guided breathing or Andrew Johnson for guided relaxation.
2. Yoga can work wonders for learning how to breath well and creating the time to focus on our well being.
3. Eat well. Stress can frequently lead to poor food choices, often sugar or carbohydrate based. Foods that maintain more consistent blood sugar levels can help.
4. Try to reduce alcohol intake this often impacts on our food choices, either at the time or the day after. It is also a depressant.
5. High quality sleep is helpful. If you struggle here, Hypnsosis can help. For more mild cases lavender oil, valerian and camomile tea can help.
6. A healthy body equals a healthy mind, exercise is a great way to combat stress. anything that appeals to you would have a positive impact. Walking is a great start, it reduces cortisol levels and can have a grounding affect which induces wellbeing. Regular exercise retrains the brain by retiring its neural pathways to calm its response to stress and anxiety. This is backed up by numerous studies with the field of Neuroscience.
7. Aim to make your health a priority rather than an after thought.
8. Say No when you need to
9. Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) works wonders for reducing stress symptoms