We have all experienced stress at different times in our lives. But some people are living with high levels of it on daily basis, and it amazes me how ready people are to just accept it. I recently wrote a blog about Mindfulness, and it suddenly occurred to me that many people never make time to relax, or even take stress seriously. So, I thought it would be helpful to discuss what is actually happening when we get stressed, and what the long-term effects are on the body.

What is stress…?

Stress is a physical response to extreme mental, emotional, or physical conditions.

There are three different types:

Acute Stress – this is the most commonly experienced kind of stress, and generally happens for short periods in response to the things that come up in our daily lives. This is not always negative either we can experience it as a form of excitement E.g. When we are watching a horror film, or riding a roller coaster. That’s why you can fool your body into thinking you are excited rather than anxious, to over come things like performance nerves.
Episodic Stress – This is similar to acute stress but occurs more frequently and is usually caused by habitual negative thinking patterns. For example people who constantly worry or put high amounts of pressure on them selves.
Chronic Stress – Long term exposure to ongoing stressful circumstances that a person feels trapped in. E.g. Trauma, a high pressure job, an abusive relationship, poverty, or an illness – and this is the most damaging to your health because it is constant and slowly wears down the body and mind of the sufferer.

Why do we get stressed?

You have probably heard of the term fight or flight. Well this comes from a time when human beings weren’t the dominant species on the planet, and they were constantly under threat from predators. To ensure our survival the body naturally releases chemicals to help us either defend ourselves or escape. The problem is your body can’t tell the difference between being attacked by a woolly mammoth or your boss shouting at you – the same chemicals are released into your system in response to stress even when you don’t need them. But why is that a problem?

The two chemicals that are released are hormones called Adrenaline and Cortisol.

Adrenaline – forces your body into action so that you can get away from danger by increasing your heart rate, blood pressure, and decreasing your digestion (which is why you don’t feel hungry when you are anxious).

Cortisol – helps the body cope with stress. It enables short bursts of energy by increasing blood sugar, it lowers your sensitivity to pain, it temporarily boosts immunity, and even improves memory function.

Our bodies are designed to cope with occasional extreme stress, but regular and prolonged exposure to these chemicals and the responses they produce can have serious consequences. Especially if we don’t take the time to calm down and relax after the stressful situation has passed.

Here are some of the potential long term health risks:

  • Heart Problems
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Weakened Immune System
  • Skin Problems
  • Pain and Tension
  • Infertility

Now I am aware that the conditions listed above sound extreme, and I am not trying to scare you. The point I am trying to make is that stress should be taken seriously! You can’t avoid it completely, so it is important to make time to restore the balance, and there are lots of simple ways you can do this.

How do techniques like mindfulness and meditation help…?

In a similar way to the stress response, when you do an activity like mindfulness your body releases a different hormone called Oxytocin (also known as the love hormone). This makes you feel relaxed, connected, and safe, which counteracts the other chemicals.

What else can you do…?

  • Exercise is another good way to counteract the effects of stress because when you exercise your body releases other chemicals like Endorphins which reduce the perception of pain, and give you a natural high. Another chemical that is released is Dopamine which makes you feel energised, increases feelings of drive/confidence and gives you a positive mental attitude.
  • New scientific studies have shown that diet can be another contributing factor to stress and other mental conditions like depression. But by eating the right foods you can reduce it’s impact on the body and boost your immune system.
  • If one of my clients is having an anxiety attack one of the first things I ask (once we have got it under control), is what they have eaten that day. They will often say that they have had junk food, or nothing at all. So it’s not just what you eat, it’s about making sure that you eat regularly as well.
  • You may not be aware that dehydration can cause stress/anxiety and the opposite is also true – being stressed/anxious will dehydrate you. So if you are having a difficult day make sure you drink plenty of water.
  • Know what your tolerance level is and what your triggers are, so that you can plan ahead and know when to take a break – or you might get over loaded!

I hope this blog has been helpful. I will end by simply saying – Be good to yourself! You only have one body, and although we need money to survive it’s important to remember there are more important things in life. But don’t take my word for it – I will leave you with the final message of one of the most successful men of all time Steve Jobs:

“I reached the pinnacle of success in the business world. In others’ eyes, my life is an epitome of success.However, aside from work, I have little joy. In the end, wealth is only a fact of life that I am accustomed to. At this moment, lying on the sick bed and recalling my whole life, I realise that all the recognition and wealth that I took so much pride in, have paled and become meaningless in the face of impending death. In the darkness, I look at the green lights from the life supporting machines and hear the humming mechanical sounds, I can feel the breath of god of death drawing closer…

Now I know, when we have accumulated sufficient wealth to last our lifetime, we should pursue other matters that are unrelated to wealth…Non-stop pursuing of wealth will only turn a person into a twisted being, just like me.God gave us the senses to let us feel the love in everyone’s heart, not the illusions brought about by wealth.

The wealth I have won in my life I cannot bring with me. What I can bring is only the memories precipitated by love. That’s the true riches which will follow you, accompany you, giving you strength and light to go on. Love can travel a thousand miles. Life has no limit. Go where you want to go. Reach the height you want to reach. It is all in your heart and in your hands.

What is the most expensive bed in the world? Sick bed…You can employ someone to drive the car for you, make money for you but you cannot have someone to bear the sickness for you.

Material things lost can be found. But there is one thing that can never be found when it is lost – Life.Whichever stage in life we are at right now, with time, we will face the day when the curtain comes down. Treasure Love for your family, love for your spouse, love for your friends.

Treat yourself well. Cherish others!”

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