We all have stress. A little stress is actually good. It can spur us on to meet a deadline or complete a project. The normal stress cycle is:
Stressor ~ the project or event
Response ~ do the work or plan the event
Resolution ~ finish the project or event ~ then relax
The “Fight or Flight” Response
The stress response turns off activities that aren’t required for short-term survival, such as digestion, growth, immune system response, bone and tissue repair, reproductive functions and more. This is why when we are working on a project deadline we may skip a meal and not feel hungry or get less sleep and not feel tired. In everyday life, we tend to go from one stressor to the next, or even take on more than one stressor at a time, without completion or relaxation.
Over time, constant stress becomes damaging. Skipping lunch one day has a much different effect on the body than skipping lunch every day for a week or a month.
The Amygdala are almond shaped nodules deep in the brain that are responsible for emotional reactivity. They stimulate the part of the brain used for reasoning and decision making and they respond to threat, fear or aggression, which triggers the “Fight or Flight” response.
When the “Fight or Flight” response kicks in, the Amygdala secretes cortisol which increases blood sugar to give energy to fight or flight. When you stay in a constant state of stress the cortisol continues to flow and the body cannot process it all. Recent studies are showing a direct link between high levels of cortisol and type 2 diabetes and even some forms of dementia.
The Amygdala are part of the limbic system. They communicate directly with the body to take action before the brain has a chance to engage ~ bypassing the reasoning & decision-making area of the brain.
This triggers fight or flight response which:
- Releases adrenaline to make you go!
- Secretes cortisol for energy.
- Shuts down vital activities that are non-essential bodily functions, to facilitate short term survival:
- Immune system
- Bone and tissue repair
- Reproductive function
So just imagine what damage staying in a state of fight or flight might cause to your body.
Chronic Stress~ (Response)
30 years ago, ulcers and heart disease were the only known stress related illnesses. Now, about 90% of all illnesses are thought to have a stress related component.
Some symptoms of chronic stress are: Feeling pressured to do more, exhaustion and fatigue, depression, anxiety, memory loss, poor judgment, colds, flus, headaches, sleep disturbances, weight loss or gain and many more.
The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health & Safety (CCOHS) lists these as signs that “the help of medical and psychological professionals is highly recommended.”
Brain Changes in Chronic Stress~ (Response)
- Grows extra branches for fight or flight
- Increasing the flow of cortisol
- Slowing growth, digestion, immune system function, bone and tissue repair, reproductive function and metabolism.
- Learning and memory centers shrink
- reducing our capacity for reasoning
- causing memory impairment and confusion
- affecting our ability to make decisions
- We react instead of deciding what to do
Other Changes Caused by Chronic Stress ~ (Response)
- Studies show that high stress frequently precedes a heart attack.
- Stress can also have a negative impact on your immune system, weakening your resistance to infection as well as your ability to recover.
- Stress can worsen just about any symptom, whatever the original cause.
- A headache can become a migraine.
- Digestive problems worsen and can sometimes become ulcers.
- Trouble falling asleep can become insomnia.
- Emotional stress can manifest itself in a different set of symptoms such as
- A loss of your sense of humor.
- Feeling like all the joy has gone out of your life.
- Forgetfulness or finding it harder to concentrate.
- Irritable moods and increased angry outbursts.
- Inability to cope with delays or interruptions.
Reducing the stress (Resolution)
Here are some “tried and true” stress relieving activities:
Several studies have shown a remarkable decrease in stress among those receiving massage. Research among various groups of people who face a lot of daily stress showed that massage sessions not only relieved workplace stress, but improved overall mood and lessened neck and shoulder pain. Studies on patients undergoing medical procedures show that patients’ stress test scores are significantly lower after receiving massage over the course of their treatment.
Breathing Exercises are among the best remedies for stress. Like meditation, breathing exercises give your mind and body a quick timeout. Even before you feel stressed or when you feel yourself becoming overwhelmed stop for a moment and inhale deeply through your nose, then exhale slowly through your mouth. Start by counting to 5 on the inhale then holding for a count of 5 then releasing to a count of 5 then holding for a count of 5 and repeat the cycle 4 or 5 times. You can increase your count one count at a time until you are counting to 10. If you practice this regularly, throughout your days, you will find yourself less stressed and better able to diffuse stressful situations.
The main goal of meditation is to quiet the mind. Focusing your attention on a repeated sound, on your breathing, or on an image, without distraction, will help facilitate your entry into a deeply relaxed state. Regular meditation practice can ease stress by helping you diffuse your triggers and allowing your body to relax. By clearing the mind, you are forced to “let go” of stressful events. If you notice mental distractions creeping back in, simply return to your mantra or image. Experts suggest practicing meditation for at least 20 minutes once or twice a day, but you can enjoy mini-meditations throughout the day, whenever you feel stress getting a grip on you.
Results of studies using aromatherapy indicate that it helps aid in relaxation and stress relief. Therapeutic Grade Essential Oils have been found to affect brainwaves and alter behavior, though their mechanism of action is not well understood. Scents of lavender and citrus are two of the most often used for stress-relief. Keep these essential oils on hand and in times of stress just place a drop or two in your palm, rub your hands together and inhale deeply then rub some on your temples and neck.
Researchers from a Hospital in Buffalo, NY, measured whether yoga or listening to classical music or nature sounds could relieve stress. While all approaches worked to some extent, yoga worked the fastest to lower the blood pressure of those people subjected to mental stress.