Stress comes in different forms, both internal and external.
Some people show their stress more than others, it all depends what they are stressed about and their personality type. The good news is there is always a way to combat your stress.
Are you unhappy at work? Does your boss have you under the pump? Will the kids not stop running around at home while you are trying to study? Are you worried about making ends meet this month?
It is important to remember stress is a normal human function; everyone gets stressed at times throughout their life. Stress can be a good thing though, as some people use stress as a motivator to work harder; to push to get the report done in time or to do a few extra hours at work. This is known as the fight or flight response. The fight or flight response was first described in the 1920's by physiologist Walter Cannon, he found that a chain of rapidly occurring reactions inside the body helps to mobilise the body's resources to deal with stressful circumstances.
Stress is referred to as two different types; "acute stress" and "chronic stress". Acute stress is when your body has a reaction to something specific, right then and there. What will happen is you will notice your heartbeat speed up, muscles will start to tense up, and may start to start to sweat. This type of stress generally does not last very long, and your body recovers from it quickly. What often follows acute stress is a sense of joy and excitement. Examples of acute stress could be when riding a roller coaster (moving at high speeds in the air, turning corners quickly getting that nervous feeling in your stomach) or having a job interview (feeling nervous in the gut, thinking of ways to make a good impression and worrying about not saying the wrong thing). Symptoms of acute stress can include:
- Upset stomach
- Heart palpitations
- Shortness of breath
Chronic stress, stress that lasts for a longer period, however, can have more serious effects on the body inside and out. Chronic stress gets brought on when acute stress does not get resolved, when you are worrying about something over a long period of time and you do not see a way to fix it. One example of chronic stress can be having so much work you never find yourself catching up, so you end up taking your work home with you to get more done there - but it never ends. This can also have an effect on your sleep patterns like struggling to fall asleep or waking up multiple times through the night. Another example could be relationship challenges like struggling to make ends meet or not spending enough time with your partner and kids. It may start out as something small but after trying and trying and finding yourself unable to make the problems go away, leads to long term stress. It can also lead to long term health issues such as:
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease and higher risk of heart attack
- Weight gain or loss
- Changes in sex drive
- Skin problems like acne, eczema and psoriasis
Stress can also come on by the stories that we create in our minds about things that are, or are not happening, and why they may or may not be happening. If you are constantly thinking about the worst possible outcome or the negatives in a situation, it will bring on unwanted stress and a fight or flight response your body can't resolve. Be mindful about the conversations you have with yourself as they are the most important conversations you have every day. It is a lot easier to believe stories you tell yourself than what others tell you and we tend to create a new reality from what we tell ourselves.
Do not mistake "being busy" for "being stressed" there is a big difference. You can be busy, running errands all day, looking after the house and the kids and a job without being stressed. The stress will occur when the impact of daily and weekly tasks and an overactive mind takes over.
There a few ways to try and combat stress, depending on what you are stressed about will also impact how you handle the stress. Talking to someone like a therapist or even a close friend or family member about what is causing you stress is an often used solution as it gives you the opportunity to really think about the situation at hand and what has caused the stress and it will give you the opportunity to discuss strategies to help reduce the stress. Often just talking it out and putting words on how you are feeling is a great first step to improving.
Meditation is a great way to combat stress as it helps you to relax your heart rate and focus on your breathing. People often feel refreshed after meditation sessions as it helps reset the mind and body. A study conducted in 2019 across a network of brain structures including the amygdala (a mass of grey matter inside each cerebral hemisphere, involved with the experience of emotions). The study shows that activity in the amygdala suggests that a quick breathing rate can trigger feelings of anxiety, anger, and fear. This shows that slowing down our respirations can reduce the rate of fear and anxiety.
Another really good way to combat stress is exercise. Any form of exercise, whether it is a walk in the park or a high intense bootcamp. Exercise and other physical activities produce endorphins, a chemical in the brain that acts as a natural pain killer. This will also improve your ability to sleep which in turn reduces stress. However, you can have too much of a good thing. Too much high intense training (HIT) can have negative effects on your body. Jinger Gottschall, Ph.D. teamed up with Les Mills to conduct a study to see how much HIT per week is too much for the body to handle. They took 35 adults (28 were women) recorded their heart rate every workout and tracked their mood levels over a 3-week period. The researchers had the participants doing two 30-minute workouts 4 hours apart from each other. They took a saliva sample 30 minutes before the workout, straight after and 30 minutes post workout to measure cortisol and testosterone levels. Results came back showing more than 40 minutes of incredibly high intensity exercise each week can up your risk for injury and lead to overtraining. "The difference in performance, stress-related feelings, and sleep quality was significant." Gottschall says.
Getting stressed is a normal human function, we do not like getting or being stressed but it will happen to everyone in some form throughout their life. The important thing to remember is that there is always a way to reduce or get rid of your stress, it's just about figuring out the cause of your stress and implementing a strategy to help combat, reduce or get rid of your stress without affecting other aspects of your life.
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