Stress. I hear this word regularly, its used consistently by so many people and more often than not it seems to just roll off a persons tongue . One word – stressed. This seems to be all that a person can muster when you ask them how they have been. Sometimes its as if it’s a ‘badge of honor’ to say that one is stressed or busy but is it ? What is stress, how does it impact on ones health and life? Is it really something that one wants to have in their lives? Lets take a look..
So basically there are 2 types of stress. Positive stress and Negative stress. In general, stress is really something that can be a natural and normal way that our bodies react to a situation that it deems as exciting, scary, thrilling, threatening, overwhelming, insecure – the list goes on. The body has a unique mechanism and system (known as the Sympathetic Nervous system) that naturally responds to these types of situations and activates what is known as the flight or fight response which tells us to either stay and fight or take flight and run!
The issue is that your body doesn’t know the difference between a dangerous situation like a lion chasing you or a work/home/ relationship/finances -related anxiety. Your body’s stress response is perfectly healthy when there’s a real emergency (like a lion chase), but if your body is constantly getting stress signals for everyday issues (from work/home/relationship/ finances -related anxiety), you’ll burn out over time.
On a physiological level, what happens when you are in the fight or flight stress mode is that your brain will send a message to your adrenal glands to secrete a hormone to help protect you from this stress. This will then automatically alert other systems of the body to help support and protect you to fight against it. Some of these include:
- Raised pulse and blood pressure,
- Raised blood sugars, and blood fats,
- Increased respiration (short shallow breathing)
- Increased sweating
If this is a once off situation, the body will then automatically attempt to return to its balanced state (homeostasis) but if this stress is experienced and triggered on a regular basis, the body then builds up a resistance and tolerance to this, putting it in a chronic state of high alert/ stress. This means that there is an extended release of stress hormones within the body and it is this that has adverse effects on your body.
Some of the effects of stress include:
- Lowered immunity and susceptibility to illnesses
- Moody issues from anger, depression, lack of energy/ motivation/ inspiration
- sleeping issues
- increased blood pressure and heart rate,
- higher cholesterol
- Increased fat storage
- Tummy cramps, reflux and digestive issues
- Joint and muscle aches
- Hormonal disruption for men and women – decreased libido, issues with menstrual cycle for women
When your body continues to be in this state without fully returning to a state of rest, your emergency resources will be depleted. This is when a person will then experience burn out as the body is unable to cope with the constant demands put on it.
So how do we break this highly destructive cycle of stress?
In order to balance this out, it is necessary for us to understand how to conserve energy and rest. This turns on the Parasympathetic Nervous system which allows the body to ‘rest and digest’ and is vital for your well being. Identifying ways to activate this system to allow the relaxation response to occur is critical.
Personally for me, some things that I have used to help me are really very simple to do yet highly effective. The biggest and easiest things that have helped transform my anxiety levels has been breath work and meditation. Even if you have tried it and think it doesn’t work or that your mind is super busy even while you are meditating, I encourage you to keep persisting. I started meditating just over 1 year ago and now that I have been meditating I can safely say that I only started to get effective results after 4 months of daily meditation. Finding the ‘right’ app, voice (for guided meditations) and type of meditative practice takes effort and time, but I promise you it works. If meditation is not for you, then I encourage you to try some deep breathing exercises. Try this simple but highly effective activity first thing in the morning and if possible a couple of times throughout the day.
Place your hands on your belly with your thumbs on your navel and fingers on your lower belly. Take a deep breath into your navel trying to push your hands up using your tummy. As you take a breath in, slowly count to 7, then hold your breath for a count of 7, then slowly exhale for a count of seven followed by holding your breath again for a count of 7. Repeat this process for 7 rounds. This is a great way to help curb overwhelm, anxiety, and put the body in a relaxed state to help restore and recalibrate. Try doing it while you are on your way to work, in the car, on the train/ bus, waiting in a queue. There are countless opportunities to do this throughout the day, so just give it a go. Try it for a month and see if this makes a difference to your stress levels.
Leave me a message or comment to let me know how you go with this or any other type of relaxation techniques to help you balance your nervous system. I would love to hear what helps you and if you try out the above breathing technique, I would love to hear how it goes for you.
Check out this article for ways to relax and de-stress: