What is Stress?
Anything that poses a challenge or a threat to our well-being is a stress. When you sense danger—whether it’s real or imagined—the body’s defenses automatically kicks into what is known as the “fight-or-flight” reaction, or the stress response.
When you feel threatened, your nervous system responds by releasing a flood of stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol, which fires up the body and prepares it for emergency action. Your heart rate quickens, your blood pressure rises, the breath quickens, your muscles tense – ready for action. Your senses become sharper. You are poised ready to either fight or flee from the danger at hand.
The stress response is the body’s way of protecting you. In emergency situations, the stress response can save your life—giving you extra speed to run away from a threat, or the quick reaction time to slam on the brakes to avoid an accident.
Everyone feels stress from time to time. There are lots of different types of stress – ranging from pressures from work, family, school, and responsibilities, sudden life changes such as losing a loved one, a divorce, losing a job, or traumatic events such as natural disasters, major accidents.
Stress isn’t always bad. Stress can help you perform under pressure and motivate you to strive toward a goal. There are types of stress that promote emotional and physical well being. Physical exercise is a great example of a kind of good stress. Engaging in physical activity such as walking, running, or yoga places a degree of stress on the body which then allows the muscles to develop, bones to become stronger and the heart and lungs to become more efficient. The stress of exercise also causes your brain to release “feel good” endorphins and neurotransmitters.
If you frequently experience stress—as many of us do with the pressures of our culture these days – your body may be in state of stress most of the time. This can lead to serious health problems. The American Institute of Stress notes that 75-90% of visits to primary care physicians are for stress-related complaints.
Chronic stress affects nearly every system in your body. It can suppress your immune system, upset your digestive and reproductive systems, increase the risk of heart attack and stroke, cause physical pain such as headaches, and speed up the aging process. It can even rewire the brain, leaving you more vulnerable to anxiety and depression.
Chronic stress depletes our bodies of precious resources needed for our health and vitality.
The most dangerous thing about stress is how easily it can creep up on you. Remember the analogy of the frog in a pot of water? You get used to it. It starts to feels familiar even normal. You might not notice how much it’s affecting you. It becomes easy to make excuses for how you might be feeling or suffering. We slowly adapt to circumstances and before we know it, we are yelling at someone we care about or getting sick, or have chronic pains, headaches, we are grinding our teeth at night or developing syndromes such as IBS or an autoimmune disease or we have a gnawing feeling of overwhelm and angst constantly living in the background.
Everyone responds to stress differently. How you respond to stress is based on the type of stress, your personality, your body constitution, your conditioning, how long the stress has been going on, what skills you have to deal with the stress and what kind of support system you have around you.
Signs of Stress
It is important to be aware of the common signs and symptoms of stress overload.
- Feeling frazzled and overwhelmed
- Anxious or racing thoughts, constant worrying
- Moodiness, irritability, or anger
- Depression or general unhappiness, only seeing the negative
- Dizzy spells, lightheadedness
- Inability to concentrate, confusion, memory issues, difficulty making decisions
- Heart palpitations, difficulty taking a deep breath, tightness in the chest
- Aches and pains, tight and sore muscles, neck aches, back pain
- Jaw clenching or teeth grinding
- Diarrhea or constipation, irritable bowel
- Loss of interest in usual activities, loneliness and isolation
- Inability to eat or over-eating
- Frequent colds or flu
- Fatigue or feeling wirey
- Sleeping challenges, too much or too little, waking up in the night
- Unexpected emotional reactions such as crying or yelling
- Using alcohol, cigarettes, or drugs to relax
- Nervous habits (e.g. nail biting, pacing)
- Loss of sex drive
- Autoimmune syndromes
- And more….
The Effects of Chronic Stress
Your nervous system isn’t very good at distinguishing between emotional and physical threats. If you’re stressed about a work deadline, over your bank balance or a challenging relationship, your body can react just as strongly as if you’re facing a true life-or-death situation. The more your sympathetic nervous system is activated, the easier it is to trigger a response and it becomes more difficult to bring into balance. It becomes a habit.
Health problems caused or exacerbated by stress include:
- Depression and anxiety
- Pain of any kind
- Sleep problems
- Autoimmune diseases
- Digestive problems
- Skin conditions, such as eczema
- Heart disease
- Weight problems
- Reproductive issues
- Thinking and memory problems
It is important to remain attentive to such symptoms and to have a stress management system in place to counter the adverse affects of stress. Still Mountain Coaching will give you a greater understanding of your stress, and tools, practices and strategies to more effectively manage your stress.
Take a step toward more ease. Call Regina to make an appointment: 541-390-3191
The Stress Response
What is Happening in Your Body?
The primary area of the brain that deals with stress is the limbic system. Because of its enormous influence on emotions and memory, the limbic system is often referred to as the emotional brain.
Whenever you perceive a threat, imminent or imagined, your limbic system immediately responds via your autonomic nervous system (ANS). which is responsible for the involuntary functions of the human body.
The sympathetic nervous system controls the body’s responses to a perceived threat and is responsible for the “fight or flight” response.
The parasympathetic nervous system controls homeostasis and the body at rest and is responsible for the body’s “rest and digest” function.
With sympathetic nervous responses, the body speeds up, tenses up and becomes more alert. Functions that are not essential for survival are shut down. Here are the physiological reactions of sympathetic nervous system:
- increase in the rate and constriction of the heart
- dilation of bronchial tubes in the lungs and pupils in the eyes
- contraction of muscles
- dilates the pupils
- release of adrenaline from the adrenal gland
- conversion of glycogen to glucose to provide energy for the muscles
- shut down of processes not critical for survival
- decrease in saliva production: the stomach does not move for digestion, nor does it release digestive secretions
- decrease in urinary output
- sphincter contraction
The parasympathetic nervous system counterbalances the sympathetic nervous system. It restores the body to a state of calm. The phyiological responses are:
- decrease in heart rate
- constriction of bronchial tubes in the lungs and pupils in the eyes
- relaxation of muscles
- saliva production: the stomach moves and increases secretions for digestion.
- increase in urinary output
- sphincter relaxation
Long Term Effects
Chronic stress disrupts nearly every system in your body. It can shut down your immune system, upset your digestive and reproductive systems, raise blood pressure, increase the risk of heart attack and stroke, speed up the aging process and leave you vulnerable to many mental and physical health problems.
Let Still Mountain Coaching give you the tools, practices and strategies to face your stress effectively. Learn evidence-based techniques to calm the sympathetic nervous system. Slow the breath down, decrease the heart rate and blood pressure, calm your brain so it will produce “feel good” endorphins and neurotransmitters.
Learn how to bring yourself back into balance. Feel more ease and peace in your life. Feel more empowered and masterful knowing that you can help yourself find this ease within.
How about starting now? Call Regina to make an appointment: 541-390-3191