We often talk about in our everyday lives, but what does stress actually mean? “A state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances”
Stress is our physiological, psychological and emotional response to stressors – situations or circumstances that we perceive to be challenging or even threatening. It’s our evolutionary “cavewoman” response to danger that fires up our bodies so we can run away from the unexpected sabre-tooth tiger! Stress can stimulate us to work harder, to acheive more so that we can be successful in whatever we choose to do.
In modern times, however, physical danger has become a much smaller part of our lives; we perceive challenges and threats not only to our physical selves and circumstances, but also intellectually and emotionally. Just like our predecessors, our stress response system produces hormones that tell our bodies to speed up our hearts, makes our vision and hearing more acute, and gets our muscles ready for action; we can react as quickly as we need to in order to survive. Conversely, this same stress response suppresses our immune and digestive systems because it thinks that all your energy is needed for more immediately important physical processes.This is exactly how your body is supposed to work! Great!
But what if you’re stuck in a situation that you can’t quickly resolve, or choose to ignore? This wonderful stress response is only supposed to be active for short periods of time to get us out of danger – what happens when the stressful situation doesn’t go away?
This same wonderful stress response stays constantly “switched on” – probably not at 100% – but your muscles may be more tense than usual, making you feel stiff and sore, and you may feel “hyper-aware” of your surroundings. You might even perceive threats where there really are none – we all know that when we’re stressed, a little thing that might not normally bother us at all can knock us for six!
It’s a physically and emotionally draining experience, not only for us but those around us too as they experience our stress response as their stressor!
Too little stress: sounds great, doesn’t it?! But we all know the person who just can’t seem to work up the “oomph” to get anything done
Optimum stress: just enough to stimulate our brains and bodies – we feel energetic and motivated. Even if things do go wrong, we can easily deal with the situation and move forward
Too much stress: we start to feel “frazzled”; perhaps we use unhealthy coping strategies e.g. alcohol as a de-stressor
Burn out: our bodies can only take so much; eventually your body will physically and emotionally shut down to protect you from this continuing threat
STRESS CAN KILL YOU! Not immediately. But if you’re continually stressed, then not enough energy is being supplied to your immune system; you’ll feel generally unwell, be more prone to recurrent illnesses and even injuries as your body is unable to repair itself effectively. Your mental health is as equally at risk as your physical health!
Next post: So what can we do about it?