I guess that everybody in our fast-paced world, has experienced daily stress in their life. Think of it : how do you manage your morning routine to be on time at school or at work, or when you have an important appointment and you’re stuck in the traffic jam?
Or is it at work : you come back from a day off and your inbox is completely full and your phone can’t stop ringing?
But it’s normal no? It’s modern life? Well yes and no.
Yes that’s modern life but if you don’t take care of your stress level, you can start having health issues that you will barely notice as important enough.
How much stress can we handle?
How to see if we’re stressed out?
How to manage stress in our life to feel better?
Let’s try to answer all this questions.
Stress is an old and natural mechanism.
Our autonomic nervous system (the one that works on his own) is splitted in 2 divisions : the sympathetic division and the parasympathetic division.
The sympathetic division also known as the red zone is responsible for the “fight-or-flight” response while the parasympathetic system also known as the green zone is responsible for the “rest-and-digest” response.
The “fight-or-flight” response has helped our ancestors to keep them alive while facing a life threat like a bear or a tiger. How? When our body detect a danger, it produces a hormonal cascade to concentrate enough energy in our arms and legs in order to fight the danger or flee.
On the contrary, the “rest-and-digest” response occurs when the body is at rest and help the body to digest well but not only. It includes also urination, salivation, lacrimation and sexual arousal. This response helps us to nourish ourselves and eliminate waste.
Both - “fight-or-flight” and “rest-and-digest” are essential in our life. But the balance between the two is really important to really thrive.
The issue is that your body doesn’t know the difference between a bear chasing you and work-related anxiety.
Your body’s stress response is perfectly healthy when there’s a real emergency (like a bear chase), but if your body is constantly getting stress signals for everyday issues (such as work-related anxiety), you’ll burn out over time.
When your body goes into panic mode, your sympathetic nervous system is activated to protect you from stress and your brain triggers the adrenal glands to secrete glucocorticoid hormones, like cortisol and epinephrine (adrenaline). The rest of your body is then alerted to these symptoms, equipping you with emergency fuel and energy in reaction to your panic.
As stress levels rise, many physiological changes occur in the body : pulse, blood pressure, blood sugars, blood fats, respiration, sweating, and pupil dilation levels.
After the initial stress response, your body attempts to return to homeostasis (its stable state). But when your stress reactions are too strong or triggered too often, your body will remain on high alert. As a result of this constant stress, your body builds up a resistance and tolerance to coexist with continuous stressors. This extended release of stress hormones has adverse effects on your body, lowering your immunity defenses and making you more susceptible to illness.
Here is a non-exhaustive list of symptoms that too much stress can trigger :
Mood issues, including anger and depression, lack of energy, and sleep issues
Increased blood pressure and heart rate, higher cholesterol, and risk of heart attack
Increased fat storage and disrupted hunger cues
Aches and pains in the joints and muscles
Lower bone density
Stomach cramps, reflux, and nausea
Reduced ability to fight and recover from illness due to lowered immunity
Loss of libido, lower sperm production in men, and absent or irregular menstrual cycles in women
When the body continues to function in this wired state (never fully returning to the rest state), your emergency resources are depleted and your body starts to shut down.
This final burnout stage represents your body’s inability to cope with continuously high demands.
Just as the sympathetic nervous system turns on the “fight-or-flight response,” the parasympathetic nervous system turns it off. The parasympathetic nervous system helps the body conserve energy and rest. The ability to go from “fight-or-flight” to “rest-and-digest” is critical for your well-being.
Unfortunately, a return to relaxation doesn’t occur promptly for most people in today’s fast-paced society. While we’re all running around in panic mode from our everyday worries, chronic stress is disrupting the natural balance required for optimal health, speeding up the aging process, and increasing the body’s susceptibility to illness.
Finding ways to activate the relaxation response is vital.
Here are some technique you can implement to reduce your stress level. As we’re all different, some may work for you better than others so try until you find what suits you :
Practice calming activities like meditation and light movement, such as tai chi.
Organize your work and living spaces to be clutter-free, peaceful environments.
Plan your schedule using a daily or weekly planner.
Prioritize your tasks and focus on one thing at a time.
Delegate tasks whenever possible if you feel overwhelmed.
And most of all, remember to breathe.
Breathing will activate the parasympathetic nervous system and help to enter in a “rest-and-digest” state.
I know, that seems so simple, but most of the time “the simpler the better”.
Try to focus on breathing each day with your tummy (breathing with your lungs will not activate the parasympathetic nervous system but will encourage being stressed out) and with practice, it will become natural without even thinking of it.
We all have different reactions to stress stimulations (because we all have different bodies) and that doesn’t mean that some are weaker and the others stronger. That just means we have different life stories and backgrounds. So be compassionate towards each others.
And keep in mind : it’s not healthy nor normal to constantly feel like you’re being chased by a bear...