Flight or Fight!? How often do you find yourself feeling overwhelmed or relentlessly chasing deadlines as if your life depended on it? Let’s talk about why stress has low-key been the reason we’re achieving our goals and why we need to form a healthier relationship with it. I’ve talked about this before in the first post on make stress your friend.
Today, I’ll dive a little deeper and refresh our memory on this. I’ll speak about what stress is, how it’s released, why we need to manage it and how we can acquaint ourselves to it. Nature has a remarkable way of pushing evolution forward, it’s our responsibility to learn how these innate responses affect us.
What is the stress response?
The flight or fight response is part of the sympathetic nervous system’s reaction to emergencies that you experience. This is what happens when you’re being chased by a lion, have an approaching assignment deadline or feeling sickly. The subconscious response is both physical and emotional, to optimize your reaction to the given situation.
This can work for you or against you, depending on how often you’re confronted with situations that trigger this response. The neural connections formed over the past several millennia don’t adapt quickly enough to our modern-day problems. We now experience the same stress response for much simpler issues; like not getting enough likes/followers on IG, being subtweeted or even worrying about your feed, which could start getting unhealthy.
Chronic stress is when you’re repeatedly exposed to situations that trigger the release of stress hormones in your body. This can be detrimental to your health for several reasons. Let’s discuss how the body releases those hormones and why we need to manage them adequately.
How is stress released?
Once you start thinking about all those deadlines (or when you’re faced with highly stressful encounters), how does the body react?
There’s quite a complicated process that goes on in your brain, specifically within the hypothalamus. Here’s a brief overview of what happens:
- Epinephrine (adrenaline) and cortisol are released.
- Heart rate increases.
- Breathing intensifies.
- Blood sugar is released, increasing energy.
- You become much more alert and vigilant.
This process is programmed into our subconscious mind and has proven to be an invaluable evolutionary asset. But what happens when the response becomes chronic?
Why we need to manage our levels of stress
Understanding the physiological response is critical in being able to make better decisions for your own mental well-being. The constant surge of epinephrine can become very damaging after a prolonged period of time. It damages your blood vessels and arteries, which increases your blood pressure and chances of having a heart attack/stroke.
The constant release of cortisol also increases your appetite and decreases the activity in your digestive system, since your body is using up the energy reserves. This is probably the reason why people often ‘stress-eat’ and indulge in junk food when they’re feeling overly stressed.
Thankfully, there are ways for us to combat these issues and maintain a healthy outlook on the stress response.
How can we become allies with stress?
- Exercise or go for a walk
- Speak to someone
Acceptance is always the first key when tackling a problem. Acknowledge and be honest with yourself about it. If you’re someone who tends to get stressed more than is necessary, notice the changes that happen in your body and don’t judge yourself for it. It’s part of your evolution.
The perspective you should embrace is that of kindness. Look at stress through a positive lens and that will change your outlook on it. It’s there to help you adapt, to effectively deal with changes, to energize you, to boost your body and to get you to focus. It’s also what motivates you to get off the couch and get some work done.
Breathe. This is honestly one of the best ways to calm your body down. Whenever you’re feeling overwhelmed, stressed or anxious, focus on taking in deep conscious breaths to the bottom of your abdomen. Don’t underestimate how effective this simple technique is. It will help ground you.
Here I am speaking about journalling yet again, what a surprise… It serves as an incredible outlet for you to let out emotions and clear your mind. This will help you assess the problem much more realistically and will reduce the chances of you lashing it out on others.
Exercise or go for a walk – preferably in nature. Sometimes a healthy distraction is all you need to get a grip on your thought patterns. Releasing the energy through physical exertion will certainly help calm your mind and body. Going for a walk in nature is particularly useful to gain a more philosophical outlook on the problem(s) at hand.
The last recommendation is to simply speak to someone. If you have someone that you can confide in and discuss your issues with, raise it up with them. Be wary of the energy you bring to the table, you don’t want to make them feel overwhelmed either. A great approach is to ask:
“Are you in the right emotional state to listen to what’s been stressing me out?”
Don’t bottle things up, just be considerate to others. If you’re struggling with chronic stress and feel like it might burden those you care about, consider therapy. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. You’re just speaking to someone who can guide your thought patterns into something a little healthier.
I know stress is not easy to manage and it can become very overwhelming when you have several responsibilities. Keep in mind that this is all part of your journey and that it’s all contributing to your growth. Focus on having a growth mindset, find tactics to keep you grounded and always remember to breathe. Stay present, you got this.