TIP 4: Understand your Stress and Don’t Ignore Your Body
Today is the less stress day and this is our tribute to it.
Stress is a household term these days. Everyone from the bored elderly to the overworked adults to the overburdened kids is “stressed”. As each of us fights this demon, not just our minds but our bodies are actively engaged in the struggle.
How does Stress affect our body?
We all know that stress affects the body. Here is the scientific understanding of how that happens. Understanding this will help deal with stress better and some of the following tips in the coming days will make more sense.
When faced with a stressor, the human body goes through a typical, rather uniform process to adapt to it. This has been termed as the “General Adaptation Syndrome” (GAS).
This process is broken down into three stages.
In the earliest times, stress primarily involved a threat to life by a dangerous animal or war. So instinctively, your body prepares itself to deal with the threat – either by fighting the enemy or by running away and fleeing for life. To do so, our body activates and boosts the activity of those systems which are important for dealing urgently with the emergency situation, and decreases the energy supply to those organs whose functions can wait. This is known as the fight or flight reaction.
So, to enable this,
– Heart rate, blood pressure and respiration rise in order to supply muscles and brain with more oxygen.
– More blood flows to your limbs – preparing to run or hit
– Muscles tense up for increased agility and resistance
– Senses become sharper increasing vigilance and alertness
– The HPA axis, sympathetic nervous system and adrenal glands get activated pumping extra doses of hormones adrenaline, cortisol and noradrenalin in your bloodstream for instant energy
– Hormones acting as natural painkillers are released in the body, to prepare you for possible injury
– Activities like digestion, detoxification etc slow down, so that the energy can be diverted to other body parts involved in fight-flight process.
– Sexual and immune functions are suppressed
As the initial shock of the alarm phase passes, our body begins to get used to the threat. We might not get comfortable with the threat, as it continues to remain dangerous, however, we slowly regain our center and can begin to think straight again. The body begins to regain homeostasis- which is the body’s natural state of balance. So the barrage of hormones being produced slows down, and bit by bit the body tries to regain its normal functioning. To do this, we use what is called as ‘adaptation energy’.
The body’s adaptive energy is limited, and like all other resources, very exhaustible. So persistently stretching your body to accommodate increasing day-to-day stressors doesn’t necessarily increase the resilience, it might just slowly eat away the inner strength, leaving you weak, unable to handle stress when your life depends on it.
So, as the body goes into alarm mode and then struggles to return to normalcy, naturally it gets tired. As essential energy resources are being used up, exhaustion sets in leaving the individual unable to struggle further. If the stress is temporary, the body soon returns to normal with rest. However, with continuous and severe stress, recovery from the exhaustion stage becomes difficult. And as the body gradually loses its ability to replenish its energy and health reserves, it eventually results in illnesses such as ulcers, back pains, diabetes, diseases related to the digestive system, cardiovascular problems or depression.
Dealing with GAS:
The process described above is an automatic physiological response which you cannot control. However, managing stress can still very much be within your power. Here are some of the things that you can do:
– Identify stress factors: Stressors have now changed from wild animals and wars to nagging wives, irate bosses, the 8:57 local and the increasing price of potatoes. Nevertheless, the body is still responding similarly. So while we may take these stressors for granted, our body does not. So sit with yourself, and get to know you enemy, so as to be better prepared to fight it. While you might not be able to gift yourself a car, at least some of the stressors can definitely be handled better.
– Exercise and Rest – Both are necessary. In this world of high productivity and targets, rest is seen as the enemy, but it isn’t. Rest is what your body needs just as it needs movement and exercise. Listen to your body, believe its signals and respect its tiredness.
An excerpt from a funny but true poem on stress by William Goldsmith MD
The point is, stress is not unique
It doesn’t mean you’re dumb or weak
A part of mankind’s constitution
Bequeathed to us by evolution
Common both to man and beast
It proves you’re still alive, at least.
For the entire poem click here
Image Credit: Dave-F
Post contributed by: Mahima Gupta (Psychologist, Inner Space, 2010-2012)