Is Stress All Bad?
Our immediate thought is YES! but that actually is not the case …
Stress can ruin our sex life, and Stress can help us achieve our goals. What is this double-edged sword?
What is Stress?
It’s a burst of energy within us which causes alertness and tension to help us resolve a situation. The word comes from Middle English and from it is also derived “distress” which has negative connotations also. The feeling gives us a focus and with it we achieve things and get tasks done. It motivates us and without it, we are more likely to flop around and get nowhere! Stress produces our Fight / Flight response which can be crucial for survival. Our body chemicals are effected and we are flooded with the fight-flight hormones epinephrine, norepinephrine and cortisol; blood pressure and heart rate increases. Our senses have an elevated laser-like focus. Say you’re lazily ambling down the street one sunny day, window-shopping, licking an ice-cream … all of a sudden someone on a skate board zooms along just about to skittle you … that reaction of yours to leap out of the way saves you from injury! To go from one state (total relaxation and slow movement) to the opposite (high alert and high energy) is the positive result of the stress you felt that micro-second you saw/heard the skateboard.
… Or you may need to stop dead in your tracks, not move a muscle …. you’re hiking through the bush when you’re about to step on a snake! Instant stillness, foot frozen mid air. You are ready to fight if needed, but the snake slithers away, no harm done.
Why is stress such a buzzword these days?
That’s a good question and I offer some thoughts … you’ll have additional ideas brought on by your own experiences. We of the West have created a society whereby we push ourselves constantly. Some of us rarely take downtime. Instant communication means we no longer have the peace and rest offered by “the weekend”. Everything is “now” … mobile phones, emails, instant this and instant that. Some of us measure ourselves on our promptness to respond to this “instant-ness”. To our detriment. I recognise this in myself and do try strategies to step off the treadmill!
Excessive stress has been clearly linked to health problems and many maladies are brought on by too much of it … high blood pressure, headaches, insomnia, disease etc etc Most of us now recognise this pattern. And we live in a society (which we have contributed to!) that pressures us to have material wealth, project a particular image, adopt certain thoughts and philosophies. We are individuals … but are we? They well us we “should” do this, we “should” be that, we “should” have this … the “tyranny of the shoulds” … Who are “they” and why should we? We could go on here forever, but we won’t, suffice to say we live in a sea of stress so need to have an understanding of it so that it serves us as Nature intended as opposed to oppressing us.
How can Stress be Good for us?
As above, it really is our key to survival but too much stress can be detrimental to our physical and emotional health. “Adequate” stress can apparently strengthen the immune system and improve cardiac health. I remember from Uni the following Yerkes-Dodson bell curve whereby too little or too much stress is not beneficial to our health, but just the right amount (and this will differ between and within individuals) is crucial to us …. performance increases with arousal/stress but only to a certain point. Exceed what we can handle, and our performance drops off. This cartoon version captures the concept well:
Why can Stress be Bad for us?
As seen in the cartoon bell curve above, stress is bad for us when it becomes excessive. Our performance suffers and we make mistakes, fail to achieve and this can have a grim flow-on to many aspects of our day-to-day existence. While enough stress can improve our immune system, too much emotional stress weakens it. We get sick more easily and more often. The high blood pressure that is temporarily produced as a fight-flight response to shield us from danger remains. How many people do you know taking BP medication! Emotional stress that hangs around for weeks and months wearies us, brings on depression and anxiety. Our heart can suffer – the fight-flight hormones are not turned off and too much of them are harmful to our heart. But we also see from the graph that inadequate stress, is harmful long-term also. Without sufficient stimulation and challenge in our lives, we lose vigour, energy, incentive, motivation … we start to drift around like a rudderless boat and achieve nothing. That non-productivity can harm our confidence, adversely affect our self-image, cause us to feel depressed, useless, inadequate … yes, you’re right: we do need balance.
Symptoms of Stress
- lack of concentration
- difficulty falling asleep falling asleep at inappropriate times
- coming down with frequent colds or other bugs
- irritability and anger
- over-eating or under-eating
- … and I would add, loss of sense of humour!
Coping Strategies (for excessive stress)
These do not include excess alcohol, smoking, extended couch-potato syndrome !!
There are hundreds of positive strategies for sure, but some basics to get us going …
- daily exercise such as a walk with the Dog, or alone
- allocating regular time out for yourself, ie half a day every week, or a full day, or a regular evening
- If you allocate some short “time out” periods on a daily basis, eg a morning/afternoon break, that can give you something pleasant to look forward to
- setting a “down tools” time for the end of the work day
- having an interest or two whereby you’re “in the present” in that interest and your mind isn’t wandering back to stressful thoughts
- set yourself up for a good nights sleep: pick a bedtime (smartphones are set up for this), allow a getting ready time before hand, have a dark dark room (wear an eye mask if necessary), put on a music loop of some soothing sounds, like the ocean. Be comfortable in terms of temperature. If reading in bed makes you sleepy, pick a dull book! Have a strategy for tossing and turning, eg: get up, sit under the stars with a hot milk drink, let your body temp cool down, then head back to your dark room and think about the stars you saw, just specks in our Universe.
- some natural sleepy products can help here such as chamomile tea, our Stress and Tension pilules which can be taken throughout the day, essential oils
- (see September’s article on Insomnia )
- making a list so you can clearly see what needs to be achieved and tick them off as you go
- determine if any of the stressors can be eliminated or reduced
- share your thoughts with a trusted Friend – it can give perspective to your situation
- share your thoughts with a trained professional if needed, sometimes we can’t do it alone
- talk to your Pet, or Plants … sometimes, safe verbalising gives us an outlet to frustrations which is better than holding them in … and listening to ourselves prattle away can sometimes actually make us laugh! … and
- “laughter is the best medicine” as it releases chemicals than make us feel happier
- consider Yoga, meditation
- when stressed, we can easily list all our problems … create a list of all you are thankful for and you might be pleasantly surprised that it offers you recognition of the positives in your life
- make sure you look after yourself nutritionally
- rate your stress level on a scale of 1 – 10 then ask yourself what you can do, right now, to reduce it a notch.
We can’t be free of stress and we have many causes of our total stress level so a small reduction here and there can work wonders. It also makes us realise how much control we actually do have.
Many of the above strategies also work for inadequate stress; the basic underlying concept being stimulating occupation and purpose.
One thought to hang on to, just as we can create our own excessive stress, we can remove it. Whatever we are experiencing now is not forever. Just as wonderful things are not with us all every hour of every day, neither is the bad stuff. Everything passes.
Good luck …
We are not healthcare or medical professionals and the information contained here is not to be taken as medical advice. It is recommended that you consult you healthcare professional prior to taking any supplements and always read the label, use only as directed, and if symptoms persist, see your healthcare professional.