What is stress and what does it do to our bodies?
Before we can stop stress from entering our bodies and lives, we have to understand what stress is and what its symptoms are.
Stress has become a part of human life and affects us all. But because of Covid-19 accompanied by high inflation globally, stress has reached an epidemic level in society. It is everywhere; some experience less, others a bit more. Some stress is okay — not good though — but regular stress in life can be physically and mentally harmful.
Before we can stop stress from entering our bodies and lives, we have to understand what stress is and what its symptoms are. In the 21st century, being stressed has become a part of us, so to recognise its symptoms is hard. We all are so used to stress that we often do not realise when we are stressed, until we hit a breaking point.
Stress: What is it?
In simple words, it’s our body’s way of reacting to a harmful situation, whether it is real or perceived. When you are worried or stressed, a cascade of chemical reactions is triggered to protect you from danger. It is our body’s “fight or flight” survival mechanism for both real and imaginary life-threatening situations. It is an instantaneous response that helps us either fight the threat or flee away to safety. This is how we humans, and other mammals, protect ourselves.
When we are stressed, our blood pressure rises, muscles tighten, heart rates increase, and we begin to breathe shallowly. Stress impacts our lives and health negatively, but it means different things to all of us. When our body is in a constant state of perceived threats, our internal relaxation response system does not get enough time to kick in. We are designed to handle small doses of stress, but not long-term, chronic stress.
What happens in our brains and bodies when we are stressed?
Stress stimuli can be external or internal, but the stress response initiates in the brain. There is a small part of the brain called the amygdala, the most primitive part of our brain, which is responsible for all the stress and anxiety in the body. Even before we notice or register a threat consciously, the amygdala picks up this implicit danger and starts doing its job — flooding our body with chemicals, cortisol and adrenaline. These chemicals raise our blood pressure, heart rate, breathing, and blood sugar. And blood is diverted from the gut to the muscles so that we can fight the threat with all our might and strength or run like wind (the fight or flight response).
In today’s world, this is not the case. Most of the threats are invisible and unreal and our lives are not at risk.
Cortisol is the biggest culprit as it stops the immune system, healing, and fertility because when survival is at stake, everything else goes out the window. All our resources are diverted to face this danger or threat and focus on overcoming it.
What are the symptoms of stress?
Before we look for a cure for any problem, it’s necessary to know the symptoms. Stress affects our physical and mental health along with our emotions, behaviours, and thinking abilities. However, because we all have different coping mechanisms, symptoms vary. Check which symptoms are in your body and behaviour.
Becoming easily agitated and frustrated
Being not able to relax and quieten your mind
Feeling lonely, bad about self, and worthless
Avoiding social situations, feeling overwhelmed
Low energy, headaches, insomnia, chest pain, and upset stomach
Low immune system, frequent infections and cold
Loss of sexual desire
Jaw clenching and teeth grinding
Constant worry and racing thoughts
Low ability to focus, poor judgement and forgetfulness
Being pessimistic (seeing the negative side only)
Loss of appetite or overeating
Addiction – alcohol, drugs, or sex
Fidgeting, nail-biting, and pacing
How can mindfulness help?
Mindfulness is a centuries-old practice that helps us to be more present, and see things with more clarity and without judgment. When we are mindful, we can notice and acknowledge the stress symptoms. The more aware we become, the better position we are in to deal with them.
In simple words, mindfulness practices reduce stress, anxiety, and even depression by making us more present.
Bhupinder Sandhu is a London-based mindfulness coach who believes in the human ability to build a blissful world together
The views expressed are personal
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