What is stress?
At it's most basic and biological level, stress is the body's response to pressure. The things that cause us stress differ wildly from person to person, and this depends on our life experiences, our environment, our economic situation, and even our genetic makeup.
When we encounter something stress-inducing, such as a challenge at work, our body produces stress hormones which trigger a fight or flight response. The fight or flight response was, once upon a time, an adaptive way of combating stress.
Back in the times of our cave-dwelling ancestors, stress inducing situations included encountering a predator. And therefore, to either fight it or run from it, was adaptive. The hormones released in the body in such situations are designed to help with either response. Our heart rate increases, which provides increased energy and oxygen to the body allowing us to run away or fight; our pupils dilate, allowing us to be hyper-vigilant and more aware of our surroundings and the movement of our opponent; we may even experience trembling muscles which is actually caused by our muscles tensing up in preparation to fight or flee.
As you can imagine, all of these reactions, which were once perfectly adaptive, are no longer so relevant. I can't imagine most of us would be faced with a bear or tiger on a regular day. However, the modern world does present us with plenty of triggers for a similar stress response.
Stress as a response to modern times
Did you know that our bodies cannot tell the difference between real and fabricated fears? So, facing off with a lion might elicit the same biological response as facing off with your angry boss.
It seems that in the modern world we are bombarded with stressors such as constant access to work via smartphones, constant access to family and friends via social media, and 24 hour access to the news from around the world.
It's no wonder that many of us feel constantly tense and overloaded. We can barely go a minute without experiencing one stress trigger or another, whether it's screaming kids, our boss or colleagues, a new project, vying for a promotion, seeing something awful on the news.. the list goes on.
In understanding the fight or flight response to stress, we can help to combat the effects of stress. Just by understanding that we aren't having a heart attack (as it can sometimes feel), can lessen the effects of our stress response. The more we understand about stress, the more we will be able to handle it and ward it off.
When should you seek help?
Saying this, sometimes stress can get to a point that we need help to be able to deal with it. There are many self-help strategies that you can try such as mediation, exercise, and so on, but if you feel like you've tried everything and you are still struggling, it may be time to seek out help.
Here in the UK, you can receive free CBT (cognitive behaviour therapy) on the NHS, and depending on where you live you could also receive free counselling session via the NHS too. Other options might include seeking out private CBT or psychotherapy to deal with stress triggers and responses in a longer-term treatment.
As always, if you would like to book an initial counselling session with me, please email me at email@example.com
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