Stress – an emotional word that conjures up all sorts of physical sensations in the body – tension, contraction, heart racing – you get the picture? It is safe to say that we have ALL experienced stress in some way – perhaps even since the moment of birth!
However, what is stress? Is it always bad? Can it be managed?
Stress was actually a term coined by Hans Selye in 1936 who defined it as “the non-specific response of the body to any demand for change”.Yep – newborns fit in too! However, if you look at the definition, the very nature of the body is that it is always changing – in response to the environment – and this is a good thing! Therefore stress is initially actually an adaptive response to change – the body trying to get stability through change.
The purpose of “getting stressed”, ie the fright/flight response is one that is designed to get you away from a threat, the proverbial lion around the corner. Cortisol and adrenalin work to increase heart rate, blood supply to the muscles (among many other things) to survive, until the threat has passed. However, the nature of the world today is that we react constantly as if the lion is on the chase. Over long periods of time, this reaction and these hormones are damaging – causing wear and tear on our bodies. The result – chronic illnesses like heart disease, obesity, changes in the brain (loss of memory), infections (due to impact on the immune system), lack of sleep, anxiety, depression and many others. Often this lack of “control” over the environment then leads to further maladaptive behaviors like alcohol consumption, smoking and even drug abuse – as a “coping mechanism” and ironically doing more damage to the body and ultimately burnout.
So what can you do?
- The first is to ask “is this a real or perceived threat”. Is this a lion, or can I choose my response? This is a choice – and the mental process of creating the space to respond rather than to react is a choice! The body will respond based on the choice that you make! You can only get to the question of choice though, if you take the time – to breathe and gain spaciousness. Even 30 seconds of deep breathing can make a difference. Meditation is a wonderful way of building the muscle of spaciousness and self-connection. Start with even just 10mins a day.
- Keeping healthy by eating healthily and exercising has been shown to have an impact on the body’s response to stress. This keeps the body in peak physical condition to help when its most needed.
- See a doctor or health care provider to assist with support of any medical condition that needs attention.
At the end of the day, change is part of life, and is life itself. How you choose to work with this is in your control.
Accept or resist?
Respond versus react?
Thrive or survive?
The answer is clear.