What is this thing we call stress?
It appears to be something of a buzzword that everyone uses these days to describe difficult or challenging life experiences.
Simply put, stress is your body’s way of responding to any kind of demand or threat. When you sense danger—whether it’s real or imagined, the body's defences kick into high gear in a rapid, automatic process known as the “fight-or-flight” reaction or the "stress response".
Everyone experiences stressful situations in many different forms throughout life. We’re often warned about what stress can do but do we really understand the impact of the wrong kind of stress or being continuously stressed?
To answer the question, we first need to know how the stress response system works
When we feel threatened, our nervous system responds by releasing a flood of stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol, which rouse the body for emergency action. The heart pounds faster, muscles tighten, blood pressure rises, breath quickens, and our senses become sharper.
These physical changes increase body strength and stamina, speed reaction time, and enhance our focus—preparing us to either fight or flee from the danger at hand. Once the perceived danger or emergency is over, our stress system is then free to return to a state of calm again-until the next time it’s called on. Right?
It’s true that when working properly, the stress response helps us stay focused, energetic, and alert which in emergency situations, can provide extra strength to defend and protect us in life situations.
In day-to-day living, stress is what keeps us on your toes for that works presentation job interview or maybe taking a driving test and stress can help us rise to meet challenges. So, in an ideal situation, the stress system would work like that but instead, it seems to have so much to be on guard against these days!
Our nervous system isn’t very good at distinguishing between emotional and physical threats so many more people are experiencing major difficulties managing their stress levels.
Ok, I have to admit that I enjoy filling my time with all sorts of creative projects and I get a kick out of being ‘on the go’. I’m sure that my attitude developed as a result of having a childhood illness that meant I was sometimes in hospital-for weeks at a time- in bed. So, I guess I am now the sort of person that prefers to be upright… always looking for challenging things to occupy myself with, whether on a recreational level or in my business.
I can sometimes bite off more than I can chew which left unattended begins to produce the wrong chemicals in the body.
I know first- hand that beyond a certain point, the once productive stress that usually serves to keep us excited and focused slowly becomes toxic. It starts causing major damage to our health, our mood, our productivity, our relationships, and our quality of life.
Having an autoimmune condition, I am much more aware about how stress affects me. Negative thought, raised ugly voices, anger and frustration are among the top worst emotions for me to engage in without experiencing a sudden, pounding headache, fatigue, numbness in my legs afterwards. I once even developed a sort of temporary blindness in one eye after having a steaming row with a good friend.
The Tragedy of burying many loved ones-all in a short space of time and the mixed emotions I held, saying goodbye to my design business after over 15 years also created the biggest and most destructive stress trigger that my system had encountered in many years!
I felt as though I was drowning as I mourned too many losses at one time.
My body was shutting down because it was in a continuously, heightened state of shock. I no longer had a calm period-but was instead quickly burning out. Around this time, my autoimmune condition came to life and I just couldn’t shut it down.
My saving grace throughout this very challenging time came from that ‘on the go’ personality I’ve always had because it was this characteristic that told me not to give up.
It was this character of mine that cried with me every time my energy was low and after the tears, this personality focused me as I gradually started taking calmer, deeper and more healing breaths again. It would later take at least a couple of years before that continuous ‘drowning feeling’ left my stress system.
Keeping an eye on my stress response system
Since that very testing time, I every day- try to consciously avoid some of the triggers I mentioned and even when this is not completely possible, I believe that just recognizing my position and visualizing an exit from a stressful situation helps to minimize further negative impact.
So, if you tend to get stressed out frequently—as many of us do in today’s demanding world—your body may be in a heightened state of stress most of the time. And that can lead to serious health problems. Chronic stress disrupts 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, and speed up the aging process. It can even rewire the brain, leaving you more vulnerable to anxiety, depression, and other mental health problems.
I know there are many stressful things that affect us directly or indirectly but are out of our control to remove from our lives and these challenges are also constantly changing which means we're always managing stress in some way.
It’s seems too simplistic to just say this but, I have found that being conscious of the beginnings of day-to-day stress and then being ready to do what it takes to stop it taking hold can make a significant difference to stress management.
The technics I use for instant calming are visualization and mantra work. I like the fact that both can be used-and practiced anywhere and don't cost anything! If I feel sad, anxious or nervous about something, the first thing I do is to try and slow the pace of my heart which is usually pounding or racing.
To slow things down, I imagine that I'm in a garden surrounded by the sweetest smelling flowers that I love such as freesia. I have to take deep breaths to hold on to the smell and as I do this, I repeat a mantra in my head or out loud. I also use this technic if I'm having some difficulty winding down or sleeping. Lying in bed, I begin to repeat a mantra in my head and initially feel that it's not working and I'm still awake but in the morning, I always wander how and when I finally driffted off.
What do you do?