Stress and How it Affects Us
The term Stress is an over-used word used universally; the reality of what on-going, or chronic stress is and it’s impact on the individual, may be lost or lessened because it’s part of everyday language.
There are several types of stress; mental, emotional or physical. There are four main sources of stress; environment, social, physiological and inner thoughts:
- From an environment point of view we have to cope with weather, traffic, etc.
- Social stressors include deadlines, finances, presentations etc.
- Physiological stress occurs during illness, menopause, ageing, etc.
- Finally, inner thoughts may cause the release of increased levels of stress hormones – in other words, our brains will automatically interpret a dangerous situation before we’ve even had the ability to consciously realise the presence of danger.
The thing is we all need a degree of stress in our lives; otherwise we’d be lethargic and listless. It’s when stress becomes unmanageable that problems occur. For example someone who is experiencing excessive stress may present with symptoms such as, nausea, frequent urination, sleeplessness, aches and pains in various parts of the body and, in some cases prolonged, untreated stress will result in the development of stomach ulcers.
Generally, prolonged uncontrolled stress will result in knock-on physical issues. Some people become so stressed they’re unable to live their lives in a normal fashion; they can’t work, they may not be able to interact socially with friends and family. Habitual stress, often result in depression and/or anxiety and in some cases the inability to leave the safety of a known environment.
The human body is a finely tuned instrument, which reacts intuitively to given situations. As we know some stress is beneficial; for example actors or anyone making a public presentation needs a level of adrenaline to heighten their concentration and impact the way they interact with their audience. Another benefit of increased awareness and alertness is the ability to escape a dangerous situation; for example the person who instinctively steps back onto the path to avoid an on-coming bus. They do this as if on reflex, though in reality the body is equipped with the means to react even before consciously becoming aware of the action.
How The Body Reacts To Danger?
The responses of our bodies are controlled by the autonomic nervous system or the ANS. This system is activated unconsciously. The ANS is subdivided in two; the Sympathetic Nervous System, [SNS] and the Parasympathetic Nervous System, [PNS].
The SNS is concerned with stress response which means that it is activated when the body has to be removed from a threatening or dangerous situation, or when the individual needs to be fully alert, for example when giving a lecture or presentation. This response is usually very rapid, being reactive as opposed to planned.
The PNS is concerned with the relaxation response. This system is needed, as to be constantly ‘alert’ will lead to exhaustion; after an episode of hyper vigilance it’s necessary to relax to let the internal circulating hormones return to normal daily levels. However the PNS, unlike the immediacy of the activation of the ANS, may take as long as 20 minutes to fully come into effect.
So, simply put, we need time in order to relax, it simply doesn’t happen because we want it to.
Unfortunately, we live in a very busy, ‘always on’ world, Technology has many positive advantages, though one of the major disadvantages is the lack of little real ‘down-time’.
For example, our phones are always on; we may be tweeted, instagramed, emailed; in fact, we’re always available! Once that phone beeps, we become alert. Once we open that email, we’re back at work; maybe not physically in the office, but certainly our minds are on the job.
This constant stimulus leads to an almost persistent activation of the ANS. To achieve balance, we need to employ the PNS more frequently. One key advantage is that it is possible to plan a way of living that includes exercises or methods which activate the PNS; the trick is to be aware of the need to do so. Certainly, individuals who find they can’t ‘unwind’ after work, those who can’t ‘switch-off’, those whose thoughts are racing when they’re trying to settle down to sleep, would very likely benefit from developing a Stress Management Programme.
In summary, we all need a level of stress in our lives to function. The consequences of excessive stress may result in physical or psychological problems, leading to an exacerbation in stress experienced by the individual.In fact, it’s a vicious circle.
Each of us needs to achieve a balance between managing our levels stress and employing techniques to bring about relaxation. For those who find themselves constantly stressed, one way of overcoming this is to develop a personalised stress management programme.