What is Stress? by Lisa Hunt-Wotton
Stress is a normal part of life and is normally able to be managed well. However chronic stress is bad and overwhelming stress is worse. You can be stressed emotionally, environmentally and physiologically. Stress is not about what happens to you, but how you react to what happens. It is a condition or feeling experienced when a person perceives that:
“demands exceed the personal and social resources the individual is able to mobilize.” Richard S.Lazarus
We define stress as “environmental conditions that require behavioural adjustment” (Benson, H. The Relaxation Response, 2000, pg. 41). Thus change, good or bad, can induce a stress response.
You can Check your own Life Events Rating Scale at MIND HEALTH. They have a short questionnaire that calculates your stress levels and helps you to understand what level of stress you are living with.
Stress can effect the physical body, particularly our muscles, the Nervous System and the Endocrine System Immune System.
With sudden onset stress, the muscles tense up all at once, and then release their tension when the stress passes. Chronic stress causes the muscles in the body to be in a more or less constant state of guardedness. When muscles are taut and tense for long periods of time, this may trigger other reactions of the body and even promote stress-related disorders. For example, both tension-type headache and migraine headache are associated with chronic muscle tension in the area of the shoulders, neck and head. (reference)
Gastrointestinal: Our gastric system is particularly sensitive to stress. Causing bowel problems, problems with our digestion, acid reflux, vomiting, diarrhea or constipation.
When the body is stressed it generates the “fight or flight” response. The body shifts all of its energy resources toward fighting off a life threat, or fleeing from an enemy. The adrenal glands release hormones called adrenalin and cortisol. These hormones cause the heart to beat faster, respiration rate to increase, blood vessels in the arms and legs to dilate, digestive process to change and glucose levels (sugar energy) in the bloodstream to increase to deal with the emergency.
This sudden response prepares the body to respond to an emergency situation or acute stress, short term stressors. Once the crisis is over, the body usually returns to the pre-emergency, unstressed state.
Chronic stress, experiencing stressors over a prolonged period of time, can result in a long-term drain on the body causing wear-and-tear on the body. It’s not so much what chronic stress does to the nervous system, but what continuous activation of the nervous system does to other bodily systems that become problematic. (Reference)
Some Stress-Induced Changes in Endocrine Function
When the body is stressed, the hypothalamus signals the autonomic nervous system and the pituitary gland and the process is started to produce epinephrine and cortisol, sometimes called the “stress hormones.”(Reference)
When cortisol and epinephrine are released, the liver produces more glucose, a blood sugar that would give you the energy for “fight or flight” in an emergency. For most of you, if you don’t use all of that extra energy, the body is able to reabsorb the blood sugar, even if you’re stressed again and again. But for some people — especially people vulnerable to Type 2 diabetes — that extra blood sugar can mean diabetes.
Increased cortisol, catecholamines & fatty acids
Increased blood sugar
An increase in all of the above starts the process that gives your body the energy to run from danger.
Management of Stress
There are many proven recommended techniques to regulate and manage stress.
Because of my life experiences I live with chronic stress so I need to constantly be mindful of self care. These are some of the things that have helped me.
Meditation: silent, focused, prayer, imagery.
People who meditate regularly, have different neural structures. You can read more about this in an article that I wrote on The Power of Mediation where I talk about how the power of meditaiton can rehape your neural pathways.
Silence: This is where I go to a space all alone, write out all my thoughts , park them. Face my inner demons. Test my thoughts. Test them by the beatitudes.
Is it loving?
Is it merciful?
Is it kind?
Time out: I will often schedule a date with myself. As an introvert I really need time alone without this my stress levels escalate rapidly. I will go for a drive, walk on the beach, drive to a cafe for the day and read or write or journal.
Journalling: I cannot underestimate the help that I have found in journalling. Both writing and in art journalling. It not only offers immediate help but long term help. When I look back into past journals it is helpful for me to see the progress that I have made and also how I have moved through certain obstacles.
Painting: painting means that I can rest completely in the right side of my brain and when I do that I am able to switch off all the self talk, the worry, the hyper thinking, the mental acrobats.
Sleep: without adequate sleep I am hopeless. I completely implode and everything becomes magnified and unmanageable.
Other techniques that are proven to relieve stress: Exercise, Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), Relaxation techniques have been shown to effectively reduce muscle tension, decrease the incidence of certain stress-related disorders, such as headache, and increase a sense of well-being. Listen to music, spend time with friends and eat a well balanced diet.
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