This week (7-11 November) is International Stress Awareness Week. Having studied stress from a psychological as well as a medical point of view, I wanted to share some thoughts about the nature of stress, and some ideas about how to handle it.
Stress is a normal and natural part of everyday life. In fact, a low level of stress will help us in our daily activities, as long as that stress occurs in short bursts. It is when stress becomes extreme, sustained or elevated over a long period of time, that our bodies pay an unseen price that can impact our long-term health and wellbeing.
Let’s explore the stress response. When a person experiences a stressful event whether in reality or just in their thinking, the mind signals to the body that something constitutes some form of a threat. This is the body’s way of declaring “battle stations”. While that may sound extreme, that is exactly the way the body responds to a threat, due to the central alarm system of the brain, the amygdala – a prehistoric part of our brain exclusively focused on survival.
These battle preparations align with the “fight or flight” responses we are all familiar with. In a state of stress, whether real or imaginary, the body needs to marshal its resources urgently. It needs to create energy immediately to respond to the perceived situation, so it will recruit the adrenal glands to produce the cortisol and adrenaline to fire up the body. And then it's going to cascade the production of glucose to maintain that energy level, so it's going to recruit glucose from the liver and muscles. Blood will flow away from the brain to the legs, hands and extremities, ready to fight or flee.
The body’s healing and repair systems will be shut down in order to focus all the energy, all the attention on the stress which caused the alarm to activate. So if you already have an injury, a disease or an imbalance, there will be no energy left to help your body recover from that.
It is only when the stress subsides that the body will be able to begin to resume its normal maintenance programmes, but the aftermath of stress is not easy either. The body then has to manage the large volumes of chemicals which have been produced during the stress response. These chemicals are extremely potent and were not designed to be carried in the body, but to be used up in the stress response. If the stressful situation has not used up these chemicals, where do these unwanted chemicals go? That’s when they get stored somewhere in the body, where they have the potential to harm us, unless expended in some way.
The body needs to come to a state of calmness before the functions of repairing and healing are gradually restored, as functioning through the sympathetic nervous system (“fight or flight”) activity subsides and switches to our other nervous system, called the parasympathetic nervous system (also known as “rest and digest” state) which is when the repair and healing can resume.
And that's why it's important to have an awareness when we are feeling stressed, to have in our self-help toolkit a number of strategies to help us to come back to a calmer situation. Solutions can involve getting out of the environment where the stress began and taking a walk, or we can consciously slow and deepen our rate of breathing, we can meditate. We can sit down, have a soothing drink, we can listen to music. We can look out of the window, go outside and look at the garden. And all those things will help you cope with the stressful situation.
I hope that you have found some useful information here. As a certified Stress Management Consultant, I help people manage their stress levels on a one-to-one basis. If you would like to talk with me about stress, and how I might help you, please book a free appointment by using the BOOK button on this page.
Juan Carlos is a therapist and author with over 22 years' experience as a diagnostic scientist.
All blog entries are Copyright ©2019-2022 Juan Carlos Gouveia, All Rights Reserved.
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