The negative effect of stress
If I’m out of balance, I look at the very basics; am I eating correctly, sleeping enough, spending time outdoors, exercising enough? If I can tick off those basic daily needs, then I check my stress levels.
I’m not often stressed, and I always make it a point to put time aside in between everything I do so that I know that there’s time to recharge. But sometimes stress comes from worrying or over-thinking, and that’s another type of stress compared to busy weekdays, work and chores – but stress nonetheless. (It comes in three forms: physical, chemical, and emotional.)
In whatever way stress is present, it’s essential to understand that it needs to be taken care of – take it seriously. Prolonged negative stress leads to disease, and there’s no other way of looking at it.
Small amounts of stress are normal; our innate instinct is to go into fight-or-flight mode whenever we sense fear. That particular state-of-being protects us from dangerous situations because the body becomes more alert, with cortisol and adrenalin kicking in. The body is physically and mentally prepared to defend itself from any form of danger. Once we are out of danger, the body and mind should go back to ‘rest mode’ (our normal relaxed state).
The modern type of stress
However, the problem nowadays is that we put our body in fight-or-flight mode too often—more than we can handle. I’ll give you an example. You drive your car to work in the morning. The car in front of you suddenly breaks. Your body reacts with cortisol and adrenalin, and you slam the breaks just in time to stop your vehicle before hitting the one in front of you. As soon as you realize you’re safe, the body slowly goes back in rest and repair mode, and your heart stops pounding. The problem is that once you arrive at work, you open your email to find a nasty email from a colleague. That is not a dangerous situation per se, but your body will react as if you’re face to face with a hungry tiger – just by thought alone.
The way our mind and body is designed to react when faced with danger is not really in tune with today’s busy lifestyle. On an average day, we have very few actual fight-or-flight situations, if any. But since we are able (unlike animals) to switch on the stress-mode by thought alone, we allow our body to produce the stress hormones day after day. Consider the difference between what used to be a stressful situation – being chased and attacked by a wild animal vs. modern-day issues such as a fight with a family member, unpaid bills, or angry people in traffic.
Chronic stress disrupts nearly every system in your body. The more you allow fear, anxiety, and negative emotions, the easier the body turns on the stress hormones, and it becomes a vicious circle.
Health problems caused by stress:
- Depression and anxiety
- Pain of any kind
- Sleep problems
- Weight problems
- Digestive problems
- Skin conditions, such as eczema
- Reproductive issues
- Thinking and memory problems
How can we reduce the body’s stress levels?
Try to distinguish between good and bad stress. You may encounter situations where you need the stress hormone to work in your favor and save you from harm or give you a quick boost. When someone gets hurt, you react quickly to help them, or before a presentation, if you cross or drive on a busy road, or during a game or competition. These are all situations when it’s working as intended – in isolated cases where you afterward can go back to your normal calm state. Other times, such as during countless sleepless nights worrying about work, money, or relationships, it does not work in your favor!
Our challenge is to learn how to identify the difference between these situations: when do I need it, and when does it only cause me harm, and does not help me in any way.
The good thing is, we can become better at controlling it, and remain calm in upsetting situations so that we don’t release any unnecessary stress hormone. Think of it as something expensive that we need to hold on tight to, and save it for special situations.
Once we learn how to calm our body and mind, we usually start to see things more clearly and can find better and faster solutions to our problems.
Ways to calm our mind ranges from breathing techniques, meditation, exercise, walks, and anything of a healthy nature that you enjoy doing.