Stress is a word that is used more than it should be. However, stress is a factor of today's hectic and plugged-in lifestyle, particularly for busy professionals, parents and those facing multiple challenges. Stress, in some situations and in some levels can actually be effective in protecting you or even in making you perform better. Stress, at elevated levels, is very damaging. Understanding why some levels of stress are helpful and some are mentally and physically damaging starts with taking a closer look at just what stress really is. By understanding the mechanism of stress, it is easy to see how chronic levels of high stress result in significant complications for anyone.
The Stress Response
The stress response is the body's way to try to deal with a perceived threat or something that is harmful. While this may have originally been a physical threat to our early ancestors, today it may be a threat at work, a threat in a relationship, or even in imagined threat.
When the body senses a threat of any kind, real or imagined, there are hormones released by your body. These are the hormones that speed up some systems and shut others down. They speed up the systems to allow you to fight, flee or to freeze, all responses needed to provide protection for a physical threat.
There are many different hormones released, but the two most important are adrenaline and cortisol. These speed up your heart, tighten muscles, increase blood pressure, speed up breathing, and also increasing your ability to see, hear and smell. At the same time, some systems, such as your digestive systems and some higher order thinking processes are shut down, diverting all your body resources to the flight, fight or freeze response.
This response is reversed when the stress is perceived to have gone. The body systems return to normal, adrenaline and cortisol production stops, and the systems switched off turn back on again.
When individuals are chronically stressed due to busy schedules, work demands, balancing a home and career, life changes, financial problems, difficulty in making decisions or any number of challenges, the body stays constantly in the fight, flight or freeze phase.
Once you are already under stress, even small irritations or challenges can become major stressors. For example, if you are worried about work or a relationship and then also find yourself in a traffic jam the traffic issue may suddenly go from a minor issue to a huge problem. You may find yourself with a racing heart, sweaty hands and feelings of extreme anger and irritation that are out of proportion to the issue.
The Importance of Treating Stress
It is critical to your emotional as well as physical health to learn techniques to reduce stress in your life. Without treatment stress may result in:
- Memory and concentration problems
- Sleep disturbances
- Increased risk of illness
- Irritation and anger
- Chronic headaches and body aches and pains
- Lack of sex drive
- Development of addictive behaviours
Treatment for stress can include therapy or counselling combined with a range of different holistic treatment options. Relaxation techniques, yoga, meditation, healthy diet and lifestyle choices and learning ways to "turn off" those demands from the outside world are all critical in reducing stress and getting back to enjoying life