In 1936, Hungarian endocrinologist Hans Selye chose the word stress to describe the state that he put rats into, as well as their physiological response to this state (now we call it the stress response). According to Selye, stress is the organism’s reaction to any influence on it. For Selye, stress was synonymous with the body’s response to dealing with life generally, not just to injury or violence. Much time has passed since then, but scientists have not lost their interest in this topic.
FIGHT OR FLIGHT MODE
The fight-or-flight instinct is present in all animals. It frequently saves lives – both animal and human. That is why it is so persistent in evolution, and we should be grateful to nature for writing it into our DNA. So, many thousands of years ago, meeting a bear or an enemy in the forest, a person fled, jumped over trees or fought. This is a natural response to stress.
STRESS – WHAT HAPPENS TO OUR BODIES WHEN WE EXPERIENCE IT?
In order for a person to be more mindful and ready for action, the vegetative system (or Autonomic nervous system) forces the body to mobilize all available energy resources:
- The liver releases sugar into the blood, which serves as fuel,
- Accelerated heartbeats,
- Breathing becomes deeper,
- Larger quantity of sugar goes to the muscles.
- The adrenal glands release hormones cortisol and adrenaline into the bloodstream, which help the brain and muscles utilize this energy (sugar) efficiently.
As a result, your body is ready to overcome any difficulties!
WHAT IF I AM NOT FIGHTING A TIGER?
Now imagine a different picture. In terms of stress, the body is unable to understand the difference between increased stress at work and an animal’s attack – the chemical and biological response in the body is identical. Consequently, sugar levels in your blood increases sharply. The pancreas releases the hormone insulin to convert sugar into energy or store it in adipose tissue. Consequently, if at this moment you are sitting at the table and not actively spending the generated energy, it is “stored for later”, transformed into adipose tissue. People who lead a healthy lifestyle, but are in chronic stress, begin to appear overweight and form a layer of fat or a “cortisol belly”. One of the side effects of chronic stress is insulin resistance – the inability of cells to respond to insulin. Resulting in the systemic rise of blood sugar levels and often leading to type II diabetes.
STRESS AND ITS SYMPTOMS – HOW CAN YOU TELL IF IT IS NOW CHRONIC?
If you are constantly exposed to a stressful environment, over time, you will stop paying attention to it. At the same time, stress will continue to harm your body, while simultaneously it is in “combat state of readiness” and cannot, therefore, return to its normal state. There are several symptoms you should pay attention to:
- Sleep and appetite disorders;
- Physical weakness;
- Frequent headaches;
- Constant fatigue, apathy;
- Problems with concentration, memory, speed of the thought process;
- Nervousness, fussiness, desire to control everything, inability to relax;
- Cravings for alcohol and sweets;
- Immunity decrease.
If you note any of these symptoms in yourself, try to pause and have a look at your lifestyle – what is the source of greatest stress for you right now?
HOW TO DEAL WITH CHRONIC STRESS: A FEW SUGGESTIONS.
- Watch your regime – eat, get up and go to bed at the same time every day (and on weekends too). This is very important because lack of a regime creates daily stress for the body;
- Walk in the fresh air. Everyday. Alone, with loved ones or a dog;
- Do not drink coffee or drinks containing caffeine – they increase cortisol level;
- Spend more time with people who influence you favorably and try to avoid toxic people;
- Do not drink alcohol – it increases the level of cortisol in the blood;
- No smoking – like caffeine, nicotine increases cortisol level;
- Start meditating – first in the morning, then in the morning and in the evening, then in any situation when you start to get nervous;
- Learn to create small, familiar rituals in your environment – a cup of morning coffee, an evening walk, a chapter of a book before bed, a bath with foam and candles;
- Choose an understandable and interesting sport for yourself – badminton, running or water aerobics, and enjoy small victories in it;
- The crucial thing is to find the source of chronic stress in your life (this is half the battle), recognize it, and think about how to handle it.
Do you have your own method of dealing with stress? I will be very glad if you share it with me. If not, what advice from the above mentioned could you try right now?