Now that we no longer face the threats of being chased and eaten by lions, shouldn’t our stress levels be lower and our lives be comparatively more relaxed ?
For the vast majority of us the opposite is true. Stress is a huge part of many people’s lives; It can make for difficult times, and can directly contribute to medical problems over time. Somehow we need to get a better understanding of how stress affects us, physically as well as emotionally, and then work out what we can do about it.
Stress-related problems are not something to be ashamed about. They are real; and they are important. Sometimes we cannot change the stress in our lives, but we can change our response to it. To understand how your body is affected by stress, it’s worth knowing a little about your internal workings. When there is a stressful event or even a perceived stress, your body releases adrenaline and cortisol. Once upon a time this would help you run away from the lion, but now these hormones circulate around your body and over time can cause all sorts of trouble..
Adrenaline increases your heart rate and your blood pressure, and cortisol alters your immune function (hence feeling run down in difficult times) If your stress is short lived and “relevant” such as a near miss in the car, then your hormones will return to normal fairly quickly and you can carry on your merry way. If however the stress is more chronic or continuous, such as financial strain, parenting worries, meeting deadlines, relationship difficulties and so on, then your body can become overexposed to these stress hormones, which can disrupt almost all of your normal bodily functions. The end result for you can be anxiety, depression, digestive problems, heart disease, changes in concentration, sleeping issues and weight gain to name a few.
Now, like everything, we are not all created equal. Some of us can handle huge amounts of pressure without suffering stress related issues, whereas others have a much lower stress threshold and are affected more easily and often more profoundly. What’s important to remember is that this threshold can change- what used to be a breeze for you may now be stressful and take more of a toll.
So what can we do to help ourselves? One of the most common themes is to keep trying. There is not a one size fits all solution. Different strategies will work for different people with different problems at different times. So keep trying to find the right solutions for you. Learn to take care of yourself, physically and emotionally in the face of stressful situations. Try some of these out for size, and if they aren’t cutting it then keep on searching:
- Identify what’s causing your stress. Write it down and develop a plan for managing it. This may mean changing your expectations, reducing your commitments, eliminating non-essential activities. This may be a short term plan to get through the day, or an overall picture about how to focus on the things that are important in your life and get rid of/outsource the bits you don’t need
- Build strong relationships. The benefits are twofold; negative relationships increase your stress levels, and positive relationships act as stress buffers, as well as providing practical and emotional support
- Walk away. Count to ten. Help yourself avoid an outburst and deal with the situation more rationally later
- It releases good endorphins which make you feel good and help to mitigate you stress hormones
- Rest your mind. Stress keeps nearly 50% of adults awake at night, so not only are your stress hormones surging throughout the night but you get to be tired as well. Reducing your caffeine intake and your screen time can help with sleep and scheduling in relaxation time can be helpful. Diarise your meditation/yoga/hot bath/walk with friends and stick to it
Seek professional help when stress is consuming your life and you are finding it hard to manage yourself. Skilled practitioners can help you get back on track.