Stress, the modern epidemic
Posted on 27th August 2014 at 07:30
Stress is the modern epidemic and scarcely a day goes by without it appearing in the papers or on the news. With it being such an ingrained part of our culture, it’s surprising that so many people struggle to explain exactly what it is.
In part this is because there are so many possible causes but, more importantly, what is considered “stressful” varies from person to person. What is one person’s “enjoyable challenge” is another’s “last straw”.
To our bodies the cause of our stress is irrelevant – the result is the same and can be traced back to our distant ancestors. In those far off days, life was much simpler and all about survival. All that was needed was a physical response so that we could either fight or run away from danger.
This “fight or flight” response is fuelled by adrenaline, which produces all those well known symptoms – that “buzzing” feeling, quicker breathing and heart rate, tense muscles and a queasy stomach. As a short term emergency response it didn’t matter that adrenaline burnt up huge amounts of energy, as survival was the only issue – one way or another the threat would be over and done within a few minutes.
In the modern world things are very different. The majority of threats faced today are not short term and do not require a physical “fight or flight” response. This means that there is no physical outlet for the emergency we have geared up for.
Instead, the threats are more insidious – lasting weeks, months or years – and mental or emotional, rather than physical. However tempting it may be running away, hiding or punching someone on the nose are not usually an option!
Keeping the body on red alert for long periods of time is exhausting and depletes our reserves. It’s rather like spending on a credit card – sooner or later the day of reckoning will come.
Seen in this way, it’s not surprising that there is a long list of stress related complaints or that its ripples spread into every aspect of our lives.
While most stress related advice is obvious – and often patronising – it may be helpful to flag up a few key points:
• There are certain events which are going to be stressful for everyone, regardless of how well you cope at the time. We all know that the loss of a loved one, divorce, a house move or work are going to be stressful, but what about family gatherings (!), poor communication or children leaving home?
• Learning to recognise your own warning signs is vital. These vary from person to person but include tense shoulders and neck, irritability, poor sleep, indigestion or relying on tea, coffee, chocolate or cigarettes to keep yourself going. You know the signs, so don’t ignore them!
• Let those around you know that you are feeling under pressure – if you always cope, it may not have occurred to anyone that “Mrs (or Mr!) Organised” actually needs some support.
• Take control of the situation, but only deal with the things you can realistically do something about. Then, call in reinforcements! It isn’t a sign of weakness, but makes perfect sense. Not only does it take things off your plate but giving those around you things to do will help stop them getting under your feet and adding to your stress.
• Don’t add to your stress by trying to make it all “right” or “perfect”. Although it’s easy to say – but harder to accept – life just isn’t perfect. Whatever you do, act positively and try to accept that even if you do make a “wrong” decision, everyone else makes mistakes as well. People will always remember the positive things you did, how you coped and your good temper (even under severe provocation!); the rest is quickly forgotten.
• Look after yourself – eat three balanced meals a day, cut down the caffeine and drink more water, take time out to relax each day and get sufficient sleep. If you don’t give your body the resources it needs, how can you expect it to do all the things you expect it to do each day?
This post has focussed on the physical side of stress – what happens to our bodies during stress and the things we can do to help give ourselves the resources we need to survive it.
However, there is another side to stress. And that’s what goes on inside our heads when we experience stress. Not only does our mindset determine what we find stressful, but how we then react to it physically. It’s interesting that we get so wrapped up in whatever is stressing us, that we don’t notice what’s going on in our heads – and the simple things we can do to help ourselves.
So, next week, we’ll give you a different take on stress which may surprise you!
As always, the choice is yours.
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