Stress is a word that gets thrown around a lot these days. But what is stress? How does it affect your health? Is stress really that bad? In this article, we discuss everything that you need to know about stress, and how to deal with it.
Basics of Stress
Stress is simply a biological response that is triggered by specific situations, such as a perceived threat or a significant challenge. Stress is designed to trigger your flight-or-fight response, after which your body should be able to relax.
Is Stress Bad?
Stress has been vilified by modern society, considering that we don’t need it for survival as much as our prehistoric predecessors did. But experiencing stress today isn’t necessarily a bad thing as it can help you avoid an accident or meet a deadline.
Each person has different stress triggers. What is stressful for one person can be thrilling or even normal to another, such as public speaking. But no matter what the trigger is, too much constant stress can have adverse effects on your long-term health.
The Science Behind Stress
When you sense danger, your hypothalamus reacts. It sends hormone and nerve signals to your adrenal glands, which then releases an abundance of hormones—particularly cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones prepare you to face danger, thereby increasing your chances of survival.
Adrenaline triggers the fight-or-flight response. It is also responsible for triggering the following physical manifestations of stress: increased heartbeat, elevated breathing rate, and perspiration. Less detectable indications include the contraction of blood vessels to direct blood to the muscles and inhibition of insulin production.
However, frequent surges of adrenaline can lead to less desirable effects such as anxiety, insomnia, headaches, weight gain, damaged blood vessels, and high blood pressure. Frequent adrenaline surges also increase the risk of heart attack and stroke.
The other hormone released in times of stress is cortisol, which is the primary stress hormone. When cortisol is released, it alters the response in the immune system; affects parts of the brain that control motivation, fear, and mood; helps the brain use glucose effectively; raises the amount of glucose in the bloodstream, and restrains functions that are non-essential in life-threatening situations. All these help you deal more effectively with a high-stress situation, making it crucial to human survival.
However, just like adrenaline, if cortisol levels stay high for too long, it triggers adverse effects on your health. Notably, it can contribute to weight gain, high blood pressure, sleep problems, lack of energy, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, brain fog, and memory issues, and a weakened immune system.
Stress is as much a part of life as breathing is. This is why stress management is essential to maintain good health.
The first step to managing stress is to identify the things that cause it. Then, figure out which can be avoided. For those that can’t wholly be avoided, such as work-related stress, find a way to cope with it.
The goal of stress management is not to create a stress-free life. Instead, the ultimate goal is to help lower your risk for stress-related diseases. On a daily basis, successful stress management enables you to feel better, too.
Here are some things that you can implement to manage your stress:
• Aim for 7-8 hours of sleep.
• Maintain a well-balanced diet.
• Make exercise a part of your daily routine.
• Stay socially connected so you can get and receive support.
• Learn meditation techniques, such as deep breathing.
• Schedule breaks into your workday.