Why is stress such an issue in our lives?
Can modern life really be more stressful than that of our ancestors? I suggest that the answer is no
…. Our lives are just very different
…. Indeed in many ways life is much easier
…. We no longer have to hunt for food, or put our lives at risk to gain that piece of meat that we may choose to cook for dinner, or worry whether we will be killed by an animal as we sleep.
….We no longer have to fear, our families starving, or being separated from us because we can’t feed them. Legislation is in place to ensure that we are no longer cold, or really hungry. However, our brains have not changed to cope with the different demands created by modern life.
So what is stress?
Wikipedia describes it as the failure to respond appropriately to emotional or physical threats whether actual or imagined, including a state of alarm and adrenaline production – short term resistance as a coping mechanism and exhaustion. Common symptoms include inability to concentrate, irritability, muscle tension, headaches and accelerated heart beat. Its origins date back to the 1930’s when research was undertaken by Hans Seyles on hormonal reactions in laboratory animals when exposed to harmful or worrying stimuli.
Is stress a bad thing?
Some stress is quite healthy, it revs up our metabolism causes us to think and helps individuals to optimise their resources…. The medical fraternity have measured brain and body activity during stressful experiences so effects can be explained through hormones, heart activity and psychological function. There is a general agreement across the medical profession that mental stress may increase the risks of both mental and physical ill health.
So how do you know if you’re stressed?
- Alarm is the first stage when adrenaline is released to bring about the flight or fight syndrome.
- Resistance is the second stage when the individual tries to cope with the symptoms, to adapt and to become accustomed to them and possibly to deny that the body is stressed.
- The third stage is exhaustion, in which the symptoms such as sweating, increased heart rate amplify and become exaggerated and serious health risks such as heart disease, diabetes, nerve damage, depression and panic attacks can occur.
There seems to be a general lack of understanding about how the links between stress and ill-health manifest themselves, whether there’s a link between nature and nurture – can stress reactions be learned or inherited? Are the reactions toward stress general throughout the population? I’m sure that that they are not… some people suffer from high blood pressure, others suffer panic attacks, other people over-breathe and suffer from asthma, or other allergies….
The differences between individuals are incredible what sends one person into over-drive, may be a normal functioning level for another – simply individuals need to understand what is normal for them and what happens when they are overloaded or under loaded, It stands to reason that the optimum stress level for individuals is in the medium range neither being under stimulated, or over stimulated. At the optimum level the brain is moderately aroused, the individual’s resources are mobilised and full attention is given to their surroundings. At low levels the individual suffers from boredom, and loss of initiative and loss of capacity for involvement. When over loaded the ability to respond selectively to the impinging signals is impaired. Feelings of excitement and tension develop, followed by a gradual fragmentation of thought processes loss of ability to integrate the messages into a meaningful while, impaired judgement and loss of initiative.
So what can you do to relieve stress?
- Firstly recognise that you are stressed.
- Find someone to talk to?
- If failure to achieve is bugging you, someone else may be able to help,
- brainstorm to find solutions….
- Ask for help.
- Express your emotions; laugh, cry, shout, scream, enjoy a hug, – do you realise how many people in Western society are never touched?
- Smile…. A smile is contagious, it will be returned and releases endorphins,
- be genuinely appreciative, compliment someone, a partner, colleague for something they have done, it will be reciprocated and releases endorphins and helps to calm the nervous system.
- Accept yourself, be kind – provide small regular treats you deserve to be spoiled occasionally particularly when you’re down.
- Release the adrenaline through exercise – but be sensible don’t attempt to run a marathon, or swim back to the UK, if it’s inappropriate for your fitness level.
- SLEEP… Although at times of high stress sleep can be evasive there are lots of ways to help drift off – if you need help ask.
- Reduce fear, to a balanced level of healthy caution….
- Look forward positively, and anticipate all the good things in life. Your situation will improve if you want it to…. Unwittingly many people affect what life deals them. If you expect only bad things to happen that is all you will see, it’s not that good things don’t happen to you, you simply don’t appreciate them.
- Breathe deeply, exhale thoroughly and slowly and relax taking the effort to slow your breathing relaxes and calms you, stops panic attacks and reduces blood pressure.