Understanding Stress as a First Step to Effectively Managing Stress
Effectively managing stress requires a basic understanding of everyday stressors and the bodies reaction to them. Hans Selye, a Canadian endocrinologist. He defined stress as “the non-specific response of the body to any demand for change.” In other words, stress is not an external force but rather the body’s reaction to external stimuli. It is how we react to rush hour traffic, financial problems, work deadlines and other events that we perceive as stressful. Dr. Selye recognized the mind-body connection involved with stress and claimed that it isn’t stress that harms us but distress. Distress occurs when we prolong emotional stress and don’t deal with it in a positive manner.
In response to external stimuli our body reacts and enters a fight-flight state. The hormones adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol are secreted from the adrenal glands. The body enters a catabolic state breaking down fuels (fats, protein and sugar) to provide energy. Heart rate and blood pressure soar to increase the flow of blood to the brain to improve decision-making. Blood is shunted away from the gut, where it is not immediately needed for digestion, to the large muscles of the arms and legs to provide more strength and greater speed. Clotting occurs more quickly to prevent blood loss from lacerations or internal hemorrhage.
The evolutionary fight-flight response is an immediate and automatic life saving measure to help us deal with physical challenges. Today however, the external stimuli are quite different and rarely life threatening. Today we are subject to continuous emotional threats such as being stuck in traffic, dealing with confrontations at work and / or at home and struggling with financial problems, to name just a few. For many of us, these emotional stress causing situations often occur several times throughout the day, to the point of being almost continuous. Unfortunately, our bodies still react with those immediate and innate responses, releasing the flight fight hormones. It is the buildup of these hormones, particularly cortisol, that takes such a toll on our physical and emotional well-being.
Effectively Managing Stress can forestall the dangerous consequences of not doing so
The build-up of cortisol secreted during stress is now known to have many harmful effects on one’s health. Chronically elevated cortisol can wreak havoc on the nervous system, particularly the area of the brain responsible for memory, concentration and cognitive function. It can contribute to weight gain and obesity, notably in the abdominal area.
We can’t always avoid the things in our lives that cause us to react and become stressed. We can, however, learn ways of effectively managing stress and thereby cope much better with whatever stress causing situations we encounter. Strategies that include; proper nutrition and supplements where necessary, regular exercise and relaxation, are all essential.