What is stress?
Stress. A feeling that we are all familiar with, yet so many of us don’t want to admit to enduring because of our fear of “looking weak” or “unable to cope”. However stress is a natural and normal part of everyday life that is there for our survival and keeps us alive. It is only in our modern day lives that it can start to become troublesome and affects many of our mental health states negatively.
Yet if we could all fully understand what is happening to our body and why, we could learn to manage our stress levels and even change negative thinking styles that ultimately increases our stress in the first place. In this three-part stress series I will outline exactly what stress is, what causes it and also ways to prevent and overcome stress.
So what is happening?
You may already be familiar with this but it is important to have a good understanding of what’s going on. The answer lies in our past and our evolution- when primitive man or woman was presented with some sort of danger, the brain would respond with the stress response and prepare them for fight or flight. It didn’t matter what primitive man/woman’s surroundings were, if there was a life-threatening scenario, the fight or flight response would kick in automatically and help them to act quickly in order to ensure their survival. This very primitive response developed and evolved over millions of years whilst our ancestors were faced with danger frequently and is still very much needed today whenever we are presented with a real emergency.
So if we were to walk outside and come across a lion for example, this response would be great as it would enable our bodies to act fast without thinking. However the problem starts in modern day life when we’re not necessarily faced with a life-threatening scenario, but instead we are presented with something such as a bank statement, a presentation at work or an argument with your partner. As our brains perceive a ‘threat’ it sends a message to our adrenal glands to release adrenaline and other stress hormones in order to put us into this fight or flight response. Our heart beat fastens, we sweat, shake and have that awful feeling of dread in our stomachs. Sound familiar? Our bodies are preparing us for danger, but there is no real danger. And we’re left with this awful feeling that can be hard to cope with.
This pattern may repeat itself throughout the day and over time you’ve suddenly got a lot of physical stress built up and no way of release. We are then stuck in a cycle of feeling bad, over thinking everything and then producing more stress. If this then continues and our stress levels have reached a certain point, we are left functioning from the very primitive parts of the brain. Once we’re within that territory we begin to be affected by very primitive feelings such as anxiety, depression and anger. Again all such emotions are there to keep us alive in times of danger but do not transpire very well to modern day scenarios and can lead to further mental health problems.
This may not be new knowledge to a lot of you, but then if that’s the case why do so many of us still feel embarrassed by asking for help? Why can we go to the Doctor for a fractured ankle without feeling shame but do so when we need help with our minds? Our brain is as much as a physical part of our body, that is in fact extremely complex and needs a bit of maintenance too! It doesn’t make us weak, it makes us human- and actually it’s a very brave thing to take responsibility and look after ourselves.
Are you suffering from stress? Look at the list of symptoms below and if so reach out and seek help.
Common Signs of Stress
- Sleeping problems- either not being able to get to sleep, waking up during the night or sleeping too much.
- Loss of appetite or comfort eating
- Sweating, heart palpitations
- Physical tension such as headaches, muscle pain or dizziness
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
- Low moods, racing thoughts, worrying too much
- Feelings of anxiety and irritability
- Unable to concentrate or focus
- Problems with memory
- Generally feeling unhappy or experiencing other mental health problems
If you would like to discuss any of these matters further then contact me via the Contact page and I would be happy to help.
In Part Two of the stress series I will be talking about what causes our stress in modern day life…