Before I got ill, its fair to say that I was a bit of a stress-head. I was an Occupational Therapist working a full-time job in neurology, looking after my wonderful daughter, trying to have a fulfilling relationship with my partner and have a social life. I was literally running between meetings, patients, family and friends.
Looking back it’s pretty clear that I was majorly stressed out, using caffeine and wine to manage my energy levels.
When I look around my friend groups and work colleagues, I see similar patterns of behaviour.
Somehow, stress has become widely accepted as a normal part of our culture. Some people seem to thrive on a moderate level of stress, whilst others, like me, just crumple.
Many of us don’t realise the toll that stress takes on the body and mind.
For example, did you know that if you operate in high stress mode most of the time, you age ten years faster? What??
Sounds like it’s time to take a break from all this stress.
What is stress?
The dictionary definition of stress is “a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances”, such as bereavement, work deadlines, divorce or traffic jams.
In fact, stress can be any factor, internal or external, that challenges and exceeds the ability of the individual to cope. Factors that can trigger such stress include shock, fear, emotional worries and upsetting events, unhealthy food, skipping meals, exercising too much and lack of sleep. Research is starting to uncover just how high a toll stress can take on our health.
What happens when we feel stressed?
Within the autonomic nervous system, resides the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. When the body detects a stressor, it triggers the sympathetic nervous system also known as the fight, flight, freeze response. During this process, the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis is stimulated, which in turn triggers the secretion of adrenal hormones like cortisol and adrenaline into your system.
Several changes also occur in the body;
Heart rate, blood pressure and respiration increase to deliver more oxygen to the brain and muscles
The immune system is suppressed
Blood flow is diverted away from the digestive and reproductive systems, liver, kidneys and skin, and sent to the brain and skeletal muscles
Hearing, sight and smell are enhanced.
When it comes to stress, modern life is at odds with our genetic make-up. The stress response was designed for times of extreme danger, followed by a few months of recovery and down time.
Modern stressors tend to be chronic and unresolved, leading to a repetitive and prolonged stress response. Think about it. There are days when just stepping out of your front door can be confrontational. What about the journey to work or the constant deadlines or targets? Sometimes just thinking about what I might have for dinner can trigger a major stress response!
Research tells us that being chronically stressed is one of the greatest obstacles to weight loss and a precursor to ill-health. It can affect your mood, energy, thyroid function, immunity, weight and sleep.
Given these facts, I’d say learning to de-stress is crucial to attain and maintain homeostasis.
Take a moment to consider the concept that stress is in the eye of the beholder.
You might say that stress is based on external factors, but in fact, it’s your internal response to the external stressors that matters most. Because we all have stressors that we can’t control. However, when we feed into stress, we are creating the emotional distress that accompanies chronic stress.
How fortunate then, that our internal thoughts and reactions are under our control!
When you give yourself the opportunity to grow your awareness of what your emotional buttons might be you can actively create strategies and use tools to temper your response.
Want more help? You can contact me for some 1:1 person-centred health coaching ❤️