Modern day life is entirely filled with frustrations, deadlines, and demands. Some regard stress as something that should be avoided at all cost, while others develop it and make it into a way of life. What many people are not aware of is that it is not as harmful as it is made out to be.
Stress within your own comfort zone can certainly help you perform under pressure. It keeps you motivated to strive and do anything to the best of your abilities, and even protects you when danger looms around the corner. However, like anything in excess, it can also be harmful. Once stress exceeds your capability and becomes overwhelming, it may possibly damage your health, disposition, and relationships – your overall quality of life will suffer.
In understanding what stress is and how your body reacts to it, you will be able to use it to your advantage, and take the necessary measures and precautions to lessen the symptoms and signs of its terrible side effects.
What is Stress?
Stress is the body’s response to demands or threats it perceives. When we feel threatened, our nervous system reacts by emitting stress hormones that excites the body and helps us survive this unexpected emergency.
During this process, our heart beats faster, muscles tighten up, blood pressure escalates, and breathing quickens, all while our senses sharpen. These physical changes help maximize our strength and stamina, and improve our concentration, memory and reaction time as well. Commonly known as the “fight or flight” stress response, it is how our body reacts in order to protect us from possible life-threatening situations – it provides you that extra strength during emergency cases, or helps you slam on the breaks to avoid a car accident.
However, it ceases to be helpful when it is beyond your comfort zone. When the amount of stress reaches your personal threshold or how much you can handle at a time, it tends to inflict major damage on both your mind and body. This type of chronic stress occurs when we do not rest, recover or engage our nervous system. When the daily stressors of work, traffic, family commitments, and other such issues build up, they cause a series of chronic stress reactions that may eventually lead to adrenal fatigue.
How do we respond to Stress?
Recent researches show that we, as mammals, have three ways of controlling our nervous system and dealing with stress.
Social engagement is the most advanced technique we use to help ourselves feel relaxed and safe. This method can help calm you down and put a break on stress reactions. You will be able to feel and think clearly, while bodily functions, including blood pressure, heartbeat, digestion, and the immune system, go on about their work uninterrupted.
In the event where social engagement is not the appropriate response, or at least, what we think we need, our bodies condition itself for mobilization.
Mobilization is another technique that will help us during stressful times. In this process, our bodies use the same stress factor to engage in an activity or movement, such as running away from danger, to give it a channel to focus on and eventually burn through. After the threat has passed, the nervous system will then soothe the body, slowing down heart rate and reducing blood pressure, to return itself back to its normal phase.
Immobilization, on the other hand, can be the lowest possible evolved response to stress. The body only utilizes it once both social engagement and mobilization have been unsuccessful. This usually happens when an individual is traumatized, is stuck in an irritated, panic-stricken state, or is in a dysfunctional condition wherein it is difficult to move. In extreme, critical situations, this technique can even cause you to lose consciousness, allowing you to survive increased levels of physical discomfort. Until you are able to activate and put yourself in mobilization, your nervous system will struggle to go back its pre-stress state of balance.
Eustress vs. Distress
We all experience stress throughout the course of our lives. It affects us in a variety of ways, depending on how we choose to take it in, make use of it, and how we respond and take action.
As mentioned before, stress is generally not a bad thing. It encourages us to alter our behavior to help accomplish our goals, bringing us one step closer to our dreams and aspirations. We would never be compelled to do anything in the best of our abilities and contribute something worthwhile or of importance if it is not present in our lives.
There are basically two unique types of stress we encounter – eustress and distress.
Eustress is the advantageous stress that provokes people to continue doing their job to the best of their ability. It may become a motivator and can even encourage us to complete our work. On the other hand, distress, also referred to as the bad stress, happens the minute eustress levels become too much to handle. When this occurs, tension grows. We feel no pleasure in doing tasks anymore, and it seems like there is no relief in sight. This is also one of the reasons why we make terrible decisions.
The key to overcoming stress is to never disregard it, but instead to deal with the symptoms you may be experiencing. It is important to remember that both types of stress are within our control, and that it is with our attitude, and a couple of tried and tested methods, we can overcome them and turn them into something beneficial.
Methods of coping and managing stress have proven to be a very lucrative industry, with multi-million dollar businesses as testaments. The easiest and cheapest ways to deal with stress are getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet, exercising adequately, meditating, and taking supplements. If these prove insufficient, seeking professional help may be needed.