In its most instinctual sense the stress response is a way to deal with immediate or pre-imminent danger.
Let’s say a building nearby were about to collapse. The nervous system would respond by dilating the pupils, increasing heart rate and respirations, and shunting blood to the muscles.
The activated hormone system also deals with this immediate stress, pumping cortisol, epinephrine and other hormones into the bloodstream.
How many times in a year do we see that type of imminent danger? For most individuals it is rare. What have become stressors today are things like being late for a meeting, missing a deadline, or an upcoming final exam. While the nervous system response doesn’t necessarily fully activate to respond to these crisis, the hormone system does.
With even these minor stressors, the brain still releases the CRH, a hormone that eventually leads to the activation of the adrenal glands. Occasionally activating this system is no problem. The issue arises when the stress response gets activated chronically.
Over time, if someone has constant stress, a plethora of symptoms is evident: fatigue, proneness to illness as the immune system gets downregulated, increased risk of cardiovascular disease and impacts on the gastrointestinal system are also common. Stress can be present in many ways, and in some cases it is the main cause of a medical issue.
While everyday stressors can’t be eliminated, it is possible to adapt your behavior and habits to limit their effects on the body. Getting a proper amount of sleep is critical and general guidelines are not always helpful. Experiment and see how many hours you require to feel 100 percent. For some this may only be 6, but others may require around 8 hours.
Meditation can also be helpful. Meditation, essentially, is focusing on one thing. It does not have to be listening to soothing music, sitting in a quiet room and leaving yourself to your thoughts. Playing sports or going for a bike ride can be meditative if you focus on what you’re doing and exclude extraneous thoughts. For example, on a bike ride try to focus on your senses: the smell of the air, your breathing, the weight of your body on the saddle/handlebars and the pressure on the ball of your foot when you downstroke the pedal. This same concept can be applied to many other sports and activities.
Next time you are feeling stressed, try to be logical and decide if it’s actually something worth stressing about. Recognize that being chronically stressed is detrimental to your health.
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