Stress is the body's reaction when something that has happened, makes our body sense a challenging or dangerous situation. Stress triggers our 'fight or flight' response in order to fight the stressor or run away from it.
Humans are the only species who's thoughts that can activate the stress response system. This means you can think about something traumatic that happened five years ago, think about an argument you had with your boss last month or imagine a scenario of something that could happen next week; which can trigger a stress response (fight or flight) like you are being chased by a lion! Your brain can not distinguish between real and perceived threats.
When in a sympathetic state (aka stressed state) the following effects may occur:
Increase in blood pressure
Release of hormones to signal the body to focus on immediate survival
Immune system shuts down
Reproductive system becomes less active
All of these responses to stress are to conserve energy and resources in the body so that our energy can be devoted to immediate survival.
Stress is a huge problem in our modern lives; especially during the current COVID-19 situation where people are not only fearful of their health and financial situation but also the fear of the unknown.
A study completed in 2015 found that over one quarter of our population suffered from chronic stress (and we can only assume with recent pressures, that this has had a significant increase)
However, it is important to know that not all stress is bad....
"That which does not kill us makes us stronger" ~ Fredrick
This refers to Hormesis; 'a theoretical phenomenon of dose-response relationships in which something that produces harmful biological effects at moderate to high doses may produce beneficial effects at low doses'
This means that in small doses, stress may have some benefits. And exposure to healthy amounts of stress will help increase our ability to cope with stress.
Stress is like Goldilocks - it can't be too little, it can't be too much, it has to be just right! And how much stress one can handle is very individualised.
So, how can you manage your stress?
There are various studies that have been proven to assist in stress management. Your aim with stress management is to control your level of stress to improve daily functioning therefore moving you into a parasympathetic state (aka rest and digest mode).
Regular exercise - Exercise helps to release endorphins (feel good hormones). It also stimulates the release of dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin.These are brain chemicals that have an important part in regulating our mood.
Cold showers - Evidence suggests that cold showers can be very beneficial for your health. A recent study concluded that after 6 months of a regular cold showers, there was a 29% reduction in sickness and absenteeism. And is suggested that cold showers could potentially aid in depression. The cold shower is performed at the end of your normal shower for a minimum of 30 seconds on a daily basis. Cold showers can help improve your immune system, release feel good chemicals and have a psychological effect of 'getting comfortable with being uncomfortable'
Performing parasympathetic activities such as yoga, meditation, controlled breathing techniques, reading and relaxing activities
Eat a healthy diet with mostly nutritious foods - The food we eat can improve or deteriorate our mood and our ability to cope with stressors
Learning to focus on what you control
And of course do not underestimate the power of human interaction. The simple act of human connection can release hormones that can assist in relieving stress.
If you are finding it difficult to manage your stress, feeling depressed or having high levels of anxiety it is important to reach out for help. There are so many amazing services that help provide information and support including:
Lifeline 131 114
NSW Mental Health Line 1800 011 511
(Hormesis; definition) https://www.merriam-webster.com/medical/hormesis