What is Stress?
Stress, It’s a topic everyone is familiar with, especially in the current world climate and times of rapid change.
If you need convincing how prevalent it is in our society, notice how many events, whether for a day, month or week; that are dedicated to stress, anxiety, depression, our overall mental health. There are 100’s, this week we had National Stress Day.
It has become a growing part of the lives of many people. Intensified with the pressure of global uncertainty, lockdowns, health anxiety and constant bombardment with distressing media reports, even dare I say the division being created by our government.
Add in limitations on things we used to do to relax and unwind: seeing friends and family, travelling, being able to attend large celebrations, or even socialising in our workplace, and it’s no surprise that many are feeling the effects.
It can start with thoughts, feelings, or external events. It’s designed to help us react appropriately to challenges, but can overwhelm our system if it’s frequent or ongoing. Likewise, it can also be very motivating and help us make changes and rise to a situation courageously.
Types of Stress
There are three types of stress we all encounter at times, which are:
- Positive, such as being excited, happily surprised, moving into our dream job or home
- Neutral, which includes things like being in labour, or going to a job interview
- Negative, which may be related to an accident or loss, constant worry about things we cannot change, or repeated fears or cycling anxiety
We can experience all three types as either acute (short lived) or chronic (ongoing).
When a perceived stress occurs, our stress response is triggered.
Our amygdala (an almond shaped part of the brain that is part of the old or “reptilian” brain) yells out to the hypothalamus (in the brain base) that danger is present and to start sending rapid messages to your adrenal glands (which are near the kidneys) to create stress hormones.
This elevates both adrenaline, norepinephrine and cortisol levels, almost immediately, in an attempt to help us “fight” the stress.
Other hormones such as testosterone, oestrogen, progesterone, serotonin and dopamine also affect how we respond to stress, but the main three stress hormones are:
- Adrenaline (epinephrine), which instantly reacts. You may feel your palms dampen, breath quicken, and heart begin to pound, break into a sweat or clench your jaw.
- Norepinephrine, which within seconds also kicks in and wakes your whole system up. Blood starts moving to where it is required if we need to run (flight), fight or in some instances freeze. It makes sure you are fully alert so you can react sharply to whatever is happening.
- In the coming minutes, Cortisol (a steroid hormone) arrives. Cortisol gets your heart rate up, blood pumping and increases blood glucose (sugar) concentration, preparing you for the perceived battle ahead.
These hormones also shut down systems that the body feels are non-essential for battle, including our immune system and digestive system, which is why people with high stress levels may lack appetite or get sick more frequently.
Adrenaline and norepinephrine tend to leave the body within minutes, or within days if circumstances are intense, allowing your body to return to rest state.
Cortisol however, often hangs around, especially when stress is ongoing. This is a huge health factor which can cause low immunity, weight loss or gain, high blood pressure, lethargy, irritability and many other unpleasant symptoms.
It’s why it’s important to recognise and manage stress in our daily life, and learn ways to work with it. To not do so as you can see by the symptoms, it can lead to chronic disease.
In Part Two, I will be sharing some insights into ways to neutralise stress, and even use it to motivate yourself to grow!
In the meantime, it might be helpful to simply identify where stress comes from in your life, and start to notice how your body reacts. Maybe even keep a journal so you can be aware of patterns and situations.
Wishing you a Day that is as stress free as possible!