Stress & Anxiety (Self-Care) - Stress

Written by: 
Self-Care Library

Good stress, bad stress:

We can't avoid demands and pressures; nor should we. Being alive and awake puts lots of demands on the body and mind - think about the effort involved in standing or running, or the mental strain of a job interview. Human beings are designed to cope with difficulties and learn from them, so we usually take these demands in our stride, as long as there aren't too many of them and we feel strong enough. If there's some pressure, we feel energetic and rise to the challenge. In fact, the right amount of the right kind of stressRelating to injury or concern. feels good because it's stimulating. It makes us perform better, and we feel good about getting tasks done and solving problems.

On the other hand, if there's not enough stimulation we may feel bored and unmotivated; the body will feel stodgy and the mind sleepy. Sometimes a challenge may go on for a long time. Perhaps the situation can't be made any better or the problem can't be resolved. Even if your body and mind seem to have got used to the strain, in the long-term a persistent stressRelating to injury or concern. response may make you feel unwell. Many diseases are triggered or made worse by long-term stressRelating to injury or concern..

What is the stress response?

We all know how it feels to face an emergency. Your heart starts to race, your muscles tense up, your breathing gets faster, your blood pressure rises, and your attention is totally focused on the threat. Like all animals, when confronted by danger we try to survive by tackling the threat or by escaping it. (This is known as 'fight or flight').

For as long as the emergency lasts, it takes up most of your attention. Your body forgets about digestion. Blood flows into muscles and away from the belly, causing the dry mouth and the 'butterflies in the tummy' feeling. This survival mode is part of our 'inner caveman.'

The problem is that 21st-century human beings don't usually face caveman challenges. But our brains and bodies are hard-wired to survive in the hostile environments where our ancestors lived. But you can't fight a mortgage, or run away from unemployment. These situations are not physically dangerous but they can still trigger the ancient alarm system inside us.

In today's fast-moving world, we all have to deal with ever-increasing pressure: work, money, housing, worries, conflicts and disagreements, even boredom. And these little threats and hassles can trigger a whole series of stressRelating to injury or concern. responses. Then, unless we know how to make the relaxation response kick in, these stressRelating to injury or concern. responses may begin to snowball and get out of control.

When does stress become a problem?

Some of the things that can cause stressRelating to injury or concern. are from outside: big life-events such as bereavement or long-term stresses due to noise, pollution or the general grind of daily life. Some stresses come from inside, such as painful memories, inappropriate expectations and feelings like guilt or insecurity. If these stresses pile up, it gets harder to cope with everthing. Sometimes the inner caveman/woman then gets into unhealthy ways of coping to find some way of quietening down the upset inside. This is how over-use of alcohol and sugary, fatty 'comfort' foods, and even addictions to drugs, sex, gambling and shopping get started.

There is plenty of evidence that continual stressRelating to injury or concern. can harm health and well-being. Long-term stressRelating to injury or concern. is related to some cardiovascular conditions, including high blood pressure The pressure of blood within the arteries.(hypertensionHigh blood pressure.), heart attacks and stroke. Stress also makes some existing health conditions worse. Some long-term conditions flare up at times of stressRelating to injury or concern., including irritable bowel syndrome, asthma, some skin problems and rheumatoid arthritisInflammation of one or more joints of the body.. People living with prolonged stressRelating to injury or concern. also tend to get more colds and infections because stressRelating to injury or concern. makes the immune systemThe organs specialised to fight infection. less efficient.

Stress-proofing: how to make yourself more resilient?

Often, people are not aware of just how stressed or anxious they are. Some actually rely on a constant adrenalin boost to keep going, and have forgotten what it feels like to relax. They may be irritable, sleeping badly, unable to wind down even on holiday, and perhaps find it difficult to concentrate or make decisions. Even so, they prefer to ignore the signs that they are beginning to burn out.

So the first step is to be aware of feeling stressed. You might not know why you feel this way, or what the pressures actually are. You might even be telling yourself that there's no reason to be stressed, that life is fine. All the same, certain symptoms are linked to the stressed state and it's important to recognise them as warning signs that your natural capacity to cope is getting stretched.