We all know that our ancestors used stress and the fight or flight response to prepare for danger and to survive. And that in the modern world sometimes a little bit of stress is a good thing. It protects us from danger and is perfectly normal in certain situations such a sitting an exam, or your driving test or giving a presentation. But when it happens in everyday life or for prolonged periods of time it can have a detrimental effect on our health and happiness.
Stress is an emotional and physical reaction to a situation and is a state so many of us are very familiar with. The feelings of anxiety, worry and being overwhelmed along with the poor sleeping or oversleeping, butterflies in the stomach, nausea and tension are common symptoms of stress. When stressed, the body thinks it is under attack and switches to ‘fight or flight’ mode, releasing a complex mix of hormones and chemicals such as adrenaline, cortisol and norepinephrine to prepare the body for physical action. This causes a number of reactions, from blood being diverted to muscles to shutting down unnecessary bodily functions such as digestion.
Through the release of hormones such as adrenaline, cortisol and norepinephrine, the caveman gained a rush of energy, which prepared him to either fight the tiger or run away. That heart pounding, fat breathing sensation is the adrenaline; as well as a boost of energy, it enables us to focus our attention so we can quickly respond to the situation. And this too is good if we have to suddenly brake when driving or react quickly in a situation, but if we live in this heightened state for too long these elevated levels of hormones and chemicals can lead to elevated levels of sugar and blood pressure.
So how do I Reduce Stress?
First of all you want to recognize your early warning signs. I know when I start to feel stressed, I don’t sleep so well, I feel emotional (more emotional than usual!) and I am more irritable. What are your early warning signs?
Secondly, you want to see if there is any action you can take to reduce the issue that is making you stressed. Can you speak to your boss about delegating some of your workload, can you book a babysitter to give you a break?
And finally, what can you do to reduce the feelings of stress? I have been supporting women for over 25 years to cope with and manage their stress levels. I know for me getting some fresh air every day, going to bed early and making more time for mindfulness practice really helps.