What do we mean by stress?
The stress response is a normal physical and psychological response to the demands of everyday life. Some stress can be beneficial, producing a boost that provides us with drive and energy to help us through situations like work deadlines or taking care of our children’s needs. However, stress as we typically use it often describes a negative condition that can affect our mental and physical well-being. When our brain perceives a threat our body comes hard-wired to respond with an alarm system, the “fight-or-flight system”. As a stressor is perceived and interpreted as ‘threatening’, biological events commence and we release the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. It is the body’s method of reacting to a challenge when we are confronted with a situation in which the demands go beyond our coping resources.
Examples of stressful situations are work-related problems, health issues, financial difficulties, death of a family member, abuse or neglect, separation and divorce.
When the ‘threat’ has gone, our system is meant to switch off. However, too often in our fast-paced modern life we don’t make time to put into place actions that help reset our alarm system. Over time stress can have health consequences and can take a severe emotional toll on our mental wellbeing, our relationships and the quality of life. It often makes us feel tired, irritable, less resilient, and overwhelmed by too many demands. Untreated chronic stress can result in conditions such as anxiety, depression, insomnia, high blood pressure and a weakened immune system.
How you can protect yourself from the impact of chronic stress and enhance your well-being.
It is important to find positive, healthy ways to manage stress as it occurs. We are all different so the way you manage your stress needs to be personalized.
- Some people enjoy walking or going to the gym. Others find that playing music, meditation or yoga helps reduce their stress.
- There is a lot of research that supports the positive benefits of exercise on our mind and body. A 20-minute walk, run, or other form of exercise when you are in the midst of a stressful time can have an immediate effect which lasts for many hours.
- Taking as little as a 20-minute break from the stressor by giving yourself permission to step away from it and take care of yourself, can help you feel less overwhelmed and get a new perspective when you return to dealing with it.
- Our brains are interconnected with our facial expressions and emotions. Allowing yourself to smile or laugh can help relieve some of the tension.
- Getting support by speaking to someone who understands and can validate you can be helpful in reducing the stress you are experiencing.
- If you are finding it all too overwhelming, therapy can help you with the management of the manifested symptoms of stress and to work through the issues causing it.