The World Health Organisation defines stress as a global epidemic. Being overwhelmed by stress seems to be the norm and many people feel as though they can’t do anything about it.
Common strategies are failing to relieve stress and are often unhelpful like alcohol and excessively
watching TV. Pushing through and being tough are also leading to more problems in the long run as stress often can lead into more serious issues. The rise in the use of medication to combat stress is concerning as that intervention is focussed on the symptoms not the causes of stress.
We can make better choices
Stress itself is both good and bad!
Eustress (good stress) is where stress is short overloads the system. There is time to recover and adapt. A simple example is lifting weights to increase strength.
Distress (bad stress) is where stress is constant. There is no chance to adapt and recover. An example here is prolonged psychological stress or consistent lack of sleep.
Physiology of stress
There is a clear link between physiology and emotions it’s certainly a two way street. We smile when we feel happy and if we were to smile then we would change to feeling happy. Changing our physiology changes our emotional state.
The sympathetic nervous system often referred to as fight or flight kicks in to protect us in a moment of stress. At this point, chemicals are released into our system to react to the danger. Once the danger has passed the parasympathetic nervous system, (often referred to as rest and digest) takes over to calm things down. This dance between sympathetic and parasympathetic can’t cope with today’s dangers of email and social media alerts. The system still reacts as if that danger was a lion. You are unlikely to be attacked by a lion today but the stress of our environment causes the same spikes in cortical and adrenaline. This can lead to a vicious cycle which poisons our bloodstream with unhealthily high levels of stress chemicals. These chemicals increase the risk of disease, weight gain, headaches and immune issues. From a mental wellbeing point of view we can experience mood swings, insomnia, low self esteem and a host of mental health problems.
Our performance drops under stress affecting our cognition and motor skills. Over the long term prolonged stress causes damage to the brain and has been inked with Parkinsons, Altzimers and Dementia.
There are many choices we can make to combat stress before it begins. We can prevent it from building up. We can disrupt it when it does build up and we can manage ourselves in a way to recover quickly after too.
There is a better way to beat stress than trying to think your way out of it...