What is stress? Stress is a normal and helpful response to a perceived threat, which may be a physical threat or a psychological one. The stress response puts our bodies in to alert and watchful state as it increases our mind’s focus on the issue causing the stress, because when we are responding to a negative event we can’t afford to waste precious time pondering irrelevant things. The positive aspects of life become distractions from our bodies natural survival responses designed to keep us safe in a dangerous world, and as such, keeps our focus on negative things.
Stress puts our minds and bodies in a stimulated state, our minds vigilant, our heart rate elevated and muscles tense, ready to assess and respond to a negative event. We experience increased glucose uptake and even our immune system responds. In many people, however, the body does not know how to recognise when there are enough stress chemicals in the body and to cease production.
This ongoing bombardment of our bodies by stress chemicals can lead to weight gain, hypertension, a suppressed immune system, heart problems, and so on, as well as feelings of anxiety. Our brains can only handle a certain amount of this level of stimulation and need to be allowed to rest and recuperate. If we do not allow this, the neurons in our brains become exhausted and our brains suffer a loss of neuroplasticity, an issue that has been associated with depression.
Stress is primarily a subjective thing. Causes of stress often include issues such as failure to meet expectations, a loss of status or living standards, security, or something or someone important. Uncertainty is also often more stressful than knowing something bad is going to happen.
Comparing our situation to someone else who is experiencing worse circumstances does not help, if something is happening that we don’t like or don’t want to happen, we will experience a stress response. What stresses one person may not affect another, however, as our expectations, standards and understandings are derived from a mental model of how the world works, and this is developed and maintained by our memories, experiences and beliefs.
So how can we manage stress?
Reference: Psycho-Logical, by the neuroscientist Dean Burnett.