What is Stress?
How many times have you heard this: “I’m really stressed-out!” That short sentence tells us a lot. We immediately know you feel overwhelmed, tense, and likely anxious. You might notice tightness in your back, face, or stomach, and you might be having a hard time focusing.
We don’t talk much about the processes occurring within your body when you’re stressed. These processes are normal and healthy, but they can actually cause harm if activated too frequently or for too long. This article gives a quick overview of how stress helps and hurts.
Fight or Flight
Our bodies are impressively designed to react to threats for protection. A cascade of physiological events take place when we’re faced with danger. Imagine being face-to-face with a saber-toothed tiger. You better think and move fast to either defend yourself or find a way out of there. In order do that best, our body initiates a stress-response to help us.
The fight or flight response is the body’s attempt to optimize our chance for survival. We experience a surge of stress hormones. As a result, the stress hormones energize us and make us more alert. Our brain functions change. The sections of our brain responsible for philosophical thinking are turned-off to divert “horsepower” to the more basic functions. Lastly, our blood is diverted to important muscle groups to give us the strength we need to fight or flee.
Once we have escaped the wrath of the saber-toothed behemoth, this stress response dissipates. Our body slowly returns to its normal functioning. Isn’t this amazing? It is in my opinion.
Too Much Stress
Too frequent activation or prolonged activation of the fight or flight response can actually be damaging to your body. It places excessive burden on our bodies. The stress hormones actually suppress the immune system. Resultantly, your body cannot fight off illness. Your blood pressure can remain elevated and tax your cardiovascular system. Limited appetite reduces intake of nutrients. Furthermore, it is difficult to sleep well when there is adrenaline running through your system.
So you ask, “I am not faced with any saber-toothed tigers. What is this all about?”
21st Century Danger
Anything that weighs on your mind also weighs on your body.
Many of us no longer face the threats of physical danger as our ancestors once did. However, less physically dangerous experiences can activate parts of the stress response system as well.
Here is a list of some things that can initiate the stress response system:
- Ruminating about a fight with your significant other
- Demanding work schedule or dissatisfaction with work
- Trauma reminders or memories
- Generalized anxiety
How to Reduce the Stress Response
There are a few ways to go about reducing the stress response, but you must know what is creating stress for any hope of reducing it. This can be a difficult task in itself. This may require professional help and psychotherapy. However, below are a few self-help options.
Stay in the Present
We can think ourselves in and out of stress and anxiety. This happens when we focus on something that has happened in the past or something we worry will happen in the future. Learning to stay in the present is a valuable skill. Mindfulness has popularized over the past decades. You can become more mindful more easier than ever. Phone applications with guided mindfulness exercise are in surplus. Yoga has become a staple of mind and body health, and psychotherapies have been designed around this concept. If you notice you are too frequently think about the past or future, you may benefit from mindfulness training.
Change Your Perspective
You can reduce your stress response by changing your perspective on a situation. Have you ever worried about something you said to someone so much you couldn’t get it out of your head? Many people have had this experience only to learn the other person didn’t even notice. This is an example of exaggerating. It is a cognitive distortion. There are many cognitive distortions that negatively impact our minds and initiate the stress response. Some people can benefit from self-help material to learn how to challenge cognitive distortions. Many people benefit more from psychotherapy to address this.
Stress is more than a feeling. It is a physiological reaction that can damage your body. Caring for the mind and emotions also cares for your body.
At Restorative Psychological Services, we offer psychotherapy to help people make the changes in their lives to improve emotional functioning that improves physical functioning. We serve Waldwick, Ridgewood, Upper Saddle River, Ho-Ho-Kus, and the rest of Bergen County and Northern New Jersey. Please contact us if you have any questions.