Stress is a natural reaction – it’s your body’s way of responding to any kind of demand or threat. When you sense danger—whether real or imagined—the body’s defences go on high alert in a process called the “fight-or-flight” reaction or the “stress response.”
The stress response is the body’s way of protecting you by helping you stay focused and energized. In emergency situations, stress can save your life by giving you extra strength or speed of reactions. Have you ever slammed on the brakes to avoid a car accident … or had to run fast to get away from something?
Stress is also what keeps you sharp during a presentation at work or drives you to study for an exam when you’d rather be doing something else.
But there comes a point where stress stops being helpful and starts causing significant damage to your health, mood, productivity, relationships, and your quality of life.
How stress affects us
Stress can make us feel more tired, overwhelmed, agitated, and overworked than ever. In this busy day and age, we are bombarded with information all day every day. We’re juggling more tasks and things than ever before. It’s no wonder we’re feeling the pressure in the form of stress.
If you frequently find yourself feeling frazzled, fatigued and overwhelmed, it’s time to take action to bring your nervous system back into balance.
The first step is to recognize the symptoms and what’s causing them. Learning to recognize stress early allows you to be proactive in reducing stress back down to healthy levels.
Often the first reaction to stress is emotional. You feel agitated and maybe even angry. After a while that frustration can turn to feeling tired, run-down, and even depressed.
The physical symptoms also reflect how you are feeling. You may be tense and experience sore neck and shoulder muscles. Headaches are often associated with stress as are upset stomach and diarrhea. If you notice any of these symptoms, ask yourself if it could be stress related.
When stress is a reaction to physical threat, it makes sense. We need the adrenalin to help us run faster and fight harder. There is a physical outlet for the pent up energy and adrenalin of the stress reaction.
The problem is that our stress rarely comes from physical sources – we are much more likely to be under constant work pressure, financial pressure, family issues and the like.
Because the source of stress isn’t physical, we often forget that a great way to manage stress is via physical activity.
Find a physical outlet for the pent-up energy caused by stress. Workout, go for a run, punch a pillow, or scream at the top of your lungs.
If you are feeling fatigued from stress, physical exertion is still the answer. Going for a walk, doing a PT session, kicking a ball with the kids are examples of getting your body moving and your mind focused so that you GAIN energy.
Whether you need to get energy out of your body or get some energy into it, exercise is a great way to bring calm and balance back into your life.
There are other methods for dealing with stress too. Even simple little things can help and will add up over time.
Recognizing the cause of stress puts you in a position to deal with it. Eg if you’re stressed out in the morning because the kids aren’t ready to head out the door on time, spend a little time in the evening getting book bags, lunches, and school clothes ready. If you get stressed out about not finding the files you need, reorganize so you have everything at your fingertips.
Self-care, mindfulness and breathing exercises are also great ways to reduce stress. We will be exploring these over the next few weeks so stay tuned!