You’ve just finished a day at the office and you’re headed to pick up the kids from daycare, shop for groceries, cook dinner, clean up the house, and maybe grab a shower… if you’re lucky. Your thoughts are racing, you can barely concentrate on one thing at a time, and you feel like you’re falling apart. If any part of that scenario sounds familiar, you’ve met Stress.
Stress is a person’s response to real or perceived pressure. When the body or brain perceives a threat, there’s a natural human instinct to kick into overdrive. This means that heart rate increases, blood rushes through the body, and the chemical cortisol is released into the bloodstream so that the body is ready to fight or flee from said threat. When the person is not actually in physical danger, this stress response can create more harm than good. Symptoms can be physical, emotional, cognitive, or a combination of the three.
Severe stress can cause headaches, muscle tension, digestive issues, and more. It contributes to lots of different health problems for various reasons. Obesity is typically a product of fat stored in the abdomen, which is exacerbated by cortisol. Alzheimer’s disease can be accelerated by lesions forming more quickly on the brain due to increased stress levels. Diabetes is affected as well; stress makes it easier to overeat and physically raises glucose levels in the body.
Stress also increases the risk of heart disease. In fact, people who suffered a heart attack were seventy four percent less likely to have a second one after taking a stress management class. Even asthma is linked to stress. Clearly, stress takes its toll on the body through a variety of different physical outcomes. Stress is arguably even tougher on the brain and emotional health.
Often, stressed individuals feel overwhelmed, moody, or self-conscious. It’s common to avoid others when stressed and to be unable to focus for a long period of time. Worrying and pessimism are other common symptoms. Stress often feels like the world is caving in around you. Rather than waiting for an emotional or physical flare-up and grabbing your shingles ointment, rest assured that you can empower yourself to do something about your stress.
Learning how to respond to stress is one of the most valuable life skills that exist. Unfortunately, stress permeates most facets of life in 2017, and understanding what you need to cope is essential. Breathing deeply is an underestimated tool. By breathing into the belly, the parasympathetic nervous system is engaged, which counters the body’s stress response triggered by the central nervous system. The former signals the body that it is okay to relax, and starts to lessen the amount of cortisol in the bloodstream to bring the body back to homeostasis. Exercise, meditation, and yoga are all terrific ways to engage deep breathing.
Re-framing situations by asking which parts of them are positive is a powerful tool. Understanding that there is some benefit to every single potential set of circumstances provides comfort in the unknown, which can otherwise be intimidating. Keep it in perspective; ask yourself if you are in physical harm right at the present moment. The answer is typically no, and serves to de-escalate you.
Staying in the present rather than asking “What if” of the future or “I should have” in the past is a wonderfully effective way to control stress. By accepting past situations for what they are and understanding that the future cannot be controlled, you empower yourself to make the best decisions possible at present.
Truly, extreme stress has the potential to seriously damage the human body physically, emotionally, and cognitively. By understanding what stress is, which symptoms indicate it, and what can be done to cope, you set yourself up for less stress and more fulfillment.