April is Stress Awareness Month and as such I thought it would be interesting to devote a whole series of posts to stress.
Some of these posts may relate to how to combat stress and its effects but some will also be about how I deal with my own stress.
And before anyone says anything, yes, I too feel stress like everyone else.
I don’t feel that stress and its effects are talked about enough.
I certainly was brought up in a family that didn’t talk about such things and so was left to suffer in silence on occasions. This impacted me in my twenties and early thirties and is only now something I am getting to grips with.
By discussing stress out in the open and not locking it away, it is my hope that we will all become much healthier people. Both on the inside and the outside.
So, today I will be talking about what stress is, its symptoms and one great way to counter its effects.
What is stress?
I guess I should really start at the beginning and describe what stress is.
Unless we are made of stone, at some point in our lives we will have all experienced stress. In fact, we all experience stress every day as it is entirely natural.
I’ll let you into a little secret. As I sit here, thinking about writing this article, I’m feeling a little bit stressed.
Can I finish it in time? Will it be any good? Will people read it?
All these things cause a stress response from our bodies.
The term stress response describes the body’s reaction to a stressor. This was something that we developed way back when to protect us from everything that wanted to eat and kill us before we could really think about things in those terms.
Every time we are exposed to a stressor our body goes into “self-preservation mode” and begins a series of actions which evolved to keep us safe.
- Your brain turns on your nervous system to protect you from an attack
- The nervous system increases your heart rate, constricts and dilates blood vessels, slows down your intestines, digestion and floods your system with cortisol
- The surge of cortisol increases blood pressure pulling glucose into the bloodstream to use for a quick burst of energy
- Blood vessels within the heart dilate making it difficult to pump blood
- The adrenal glands release adrenaline and non-adrenaline, increasing heart rate and blood pressure
I’m sure that you will recognise most if not all of your body’s responses to stress.
So, when we look at the effects of stress, in the short-term they aren’t a bad thing. They are a completely natural response to something that may harm or even kill you. They have evolved to give us that quick burst of energy to get out of harm’s way.
The issue of chronic illness caused by stress only really comes into play when that stress becomes long-term.
During the past, when we encountered something that wanted to kill us, the situation would only last a few seconds or minutes before it would pass. We would either then be dead or have a long time to relax (hopefully) before we had to deal with it again.
This allowed the effects of the stress response to dissipate and leave our system.
Unfortunately, we didn’t evolve to deal with Council Tax, the Boss or Social Media.
In the modern age we are bombarded with so many stressful situations that we just don’t get a moment’s rest from it.
This long-term stress turns into anxiety which causes much of the same responses within the body and so, can cause the body to become literally “sick with worry”.
After a while, being in a continual state of stress can cause something called chronic stress.
Ironically this is where the body’s actions to protect us can actually cause us damage over a long period.
- Low energy
- Digestive problems including diarrhoea, sickness and constipation
- Rapid heart rate
- Chest pain
- Aches and pains
- Muscle tightness
- Poor immune system
And these are just some of the symptoms of chronic stress. If you are experiencing long-term stress you may only see some of the symptoms. But I would suggest that everyone reading this is experiencing at least one of these symptoms right now.
One Way to Counter Stress
There are quite a few ways that we can counter stress. These could include exercise, meditation, yoga or medical help but I’m going to concentrate on one that you may not have heard of.
Living in the Now
I was once told that we should think of our memories like a series of old video tapes. And our brain as a VHS player.
When we access old memories, the brain selects the tape and pops into the video player and we watch it.
The all sounds rather simple. The issue is that subconsciously we don’t realise it’s a recording of an old memory Each time we view that tape, we experience it as though it was just happening.
The emotions become real again, our heart starts to beat faster, we breathe quicker, our stomach flutters, we cry if it’s sad and smile if it’s happy.
Try it now.
Think about a memory that was a very happy one for you. Really think about it for a minute or so and see what effect it has on you and your body.
I dare you not to smile or even laugh.
So, what if I told you that thinking about things that haven’t already happened work in the same way?
Your brain plays a VHS tape about that imagined stressor in the future and your body reacts. You start to get sweaty palms and feel nervous.
We are getting stressed about something that hasn’t even happened yet.
How crazy is that?
I know that what I am going to show you is easier said than done but I’m going to ask you to give it a try all the same.
Don’t think about what might happen, 3 months or a year down the line.
Only Concentrate on the Now
You have complete control on how you feel right now but not on how you will feel in the future.
Take a minute and just let go of that stress about next week, you can’t do anything about it.
This should I hope, help you to focus on the now and not worry about things you can’t control.
If it doesn’t work first time around, try it again. It’s like a muscle and will only get stronger the more you use it.
I have great success with this and it is a technique I use often. My Wife? Well let’s just say she is a work in progress.
Stress is something that we deal with on a daily basis and isn’t very nice. I just hope that over the coming weeks I can help you to breathe easier.
Let me know how you get on with my “living in the now” technique. I would be really happy to hear how you got on and if they work for you.
Also, don’t forget to check out my other articles here.
Be all you can be