Stress: What Is It?
It is an automatic, physiological response designed to keep you alive in dangerous situations. When the brain picks up a threat, it sends a signal to your body telling it to gear up for the fight or flight response.
Stress hormones are released by the adrenal glands, causing two key responses:
1. Non-essential systems are paused
All functions not directly related to your immediate survival are put on hold. This includes fighting disease, digesting food, regenerating new red blood cells and draining away toxins via the lymphatic system.
2. Defense mechanisms are boosted
Essential bodily functions are enhanced. Your heart rate increases, breathing quickens, the sense go into a state of high-alert and your mind becomes sharply focused on dealing with the immediate perceived threat.
How Does Stress Affect Wellbeing?
Physiological defenses are managed in the subconscious, which reduces your capacity to control your thoughts and actions during the stress response. This can have a myriad of emotional, psychological and physiological effects, leading to feelings of being overwhelmed and out of control.
Every person experiences stress differently, but symptoms may include:
- Widespread aches and pains
- Teeth grinding, jaw clenching, facial tension and headaches
- Digestion issues such as constipation or food intolerance
- Fatigue that does not improve with sleep
- Insomnia, poor quality sleep or oversleeping
- Weakened immune system with frequent infections
- Lack of focus with an inability to concentrate
- Confusion or memory problems
- Poor decision making abilities
- Unable to put thoughts on pause with constant worrying
These symptoms can lead to poor lifestyle choices.
People who regularly suffer from unmanaged stress frequently overeat or undereat, stop exercising, socially withdraw or resort to drugs, alcohol and smoking to manage feeling overwhelmed.
These unhealthy coping mechanisms may be a good distraction in the short-term, but contribute towards long-term stress and other health issues such as depression, heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
Stress Can Affect Men Differently to Women
What is perceived to be masculine behaviour by society has caused men to be far less vocal about stress triggers than women tend to be.
Men frequently ignore it in favour of seeming powerful, but this attitude is a conscious approach that has no bearing on the subconscious brain’s ability to control the body in high-stress situations.
The result is that men often experience long-term, chronic stress with high-functioning depression, a phenomenon where people take on bigger tasks to mask underlying feelings of being out of control, which only piles on further stress.
What is Chronic Stress?
Under normal circumstances, the fight or flight response is temporary. During the perceived threat, your body is flooded with stress hormones. When the threat goes away, your body is flushed with endorphins to restore your state of homeostasis, or natural equilibrium.
If the stress trigger is not removed, or gets intentionally ignored, the brain fails to switch off the fight or flight response and your body is continuously pumped with stress hormones. This leads to long term physiological malfunctioning in the systems that are placed on pause, such as digestion and maintaining a healthy immune system.
When the body produces stress hormones continuously, rather than in short bursts as required, it leads to adrenal fatigue. Burnout.
Managing Stress Holistically in a Busy Lifestyle
To successfully manage stress, it’s necessary to take a 360 degree approach that nurtures health and wellbeing holistically.
There is no quick fix for it, so it should be managed in order to improve resilience and enhance your natural coping abilities. This can be achieved by making quality lifestyle choices that give your mind, and your body, a break when needed.
With a well-rounded, mindful approach to health, it’s easier to combat occasional feelings of worry. Nourish your body, exercise your muscles, allow yourself to rest, keep your mind entertained, nurture relationships and practice mindfulness every day.
When stressful situations arise, take a moment to reassess the threat. Address the cause of the stress promptly and give yourself a clear action plan.
Once the stressful situation has been resolved, take a pause to clear your mind with meditation, breathing exercises or yoga, then revert back to a relaxed mentality ready for the next challenge.