Diving headfirst into the world of stress
Updated: Oct 7, 2020
At some point in our lives, each and every one of us has experienced some form of stress. Whether running late to that important meeting at work, trying to meet a deadline, or juggling three different tasks at once. Stress comes in many different forms and it has a different affect on all of us. But what actually is stress, and is there anything we can do about it?
Stress isn’t a new concept, however the factors that can trigger our stress response have dramatically changed over time. At its core, stress resides in our body as a hormone. This hormone, called ‘Cortisol’, heightens as a physiological response to a ‘threat’ stimulus, alongside an increased production of adrenaline – helping to prepare our body to engage in our ‘flight’ or ‘flight’ response. Now lets take a step back for a second… Years and years ago, humankind lived very simply. There was no technology, no travel, and no structure. People lived together in family groups, hunted and foraged for their food, and settled wherever they could find shelter and water. Stress occurred only as a primal reaction to a potentially life-threatening situation. This could have been an animal attack when out hunting or an invasion from another tribe. Queue cortisol and adrenaline production. When faced with such situations, our body naturally moves from a state of rest and relaxation (our parasympathetic nervous system) through to our flight and flight response (our sympathetic nervous system). With cortisol and adrenaline pumping through our veins, our body prepares to give us the best chance at survival – providing us with a quick burst of energy, heightened alertness, lower pain thresholds, and an increase to our physical performance.
Fast-forward to today’s society. The foundation of our stress response hasn’t changed, but humans are now living in a vastly different world. Although we no longer have to worry about being attacked or chased as we hunt down our next meal, the very technology and configurations introduced into our day-to-day, designed to make our lives easier, seem to be causing us stress. With communication leaning evermore to online messaging and less face-to-face interactions, humans are losing the ability to connect and understand one another through body language and speech. An email worded in a passive-aggressive tone can spin our stress response into overdrive – just the same as waiting mid-conversation for that next text message to come in. We spend more time waiting in traffic due to an increase of vehicles on the road, and rely on different machinery to perform simple everyday tasks for us. Yet this dependence causes frustration and anger if we end up running late, or experience a breakdown. With such an increase in stimuli, it’s no wonder that many of us feel constantly frazzled and worn down as we deal with the stressors of everyday life.
Over time, consistently high levels of stress in the body – showing as continuously raised cortisol levels in the bloodstream, can start to have a real impact on our day-to-day functioning. Although quick bursts of stress can be good in the short term for helping us to push through tough tasks or perform under pressure – long-term stress can cause mood swings, fatigue, lack of concentration and impaired cognitive functioning. Further still, if these levels remain elevated, people can begin to suffer from high blood pressure, rapid weight gain, type two diabetes, osteoporosis and an impaired immune function. So what can we do about it? Putting small routines or daily actions in place can help us to keep our stress levels in check as we take some time out to focus on the present. Check out some quick ideas to lower stress levels below.
· Try daily meditation or breathing exercises: Mindful meditation or focusing on your breath can be a great way to centre yourself back to the here and now, lower your blood pressure and slow your heart rate down. Meditation and breathing exercises can be especially beneficial to have in your reservoir as they can be performed anywhere, anytime, for as long as needed.
· Get outside for some exercise or a breath of fresh air: Fresh air can do wonders for hitting your own reset button. A quick walk through nature, or even a jog around the block gives us a burst of feel-good endorphins and helps us to regulate our breathing back into a natural pattern. Better yet, find an exercise or activity you enjoy, as this will make it seem less like a chore and more like some well-deserved time out.
· Make a list or prioritise your time: As we are often so busy in today’s world, one thing we never seem to have enough of is time. Feeling pressured to get so much done in such a short time frame, it can often help to create a list or lay out what exactly you are dealing with. This can help with prioritising your tasks and time management or setting deadlines to ensure that everything gets done.