Stress is a hardwired survival mechanism used to protect you and your body from impending danger, such as a lion chasing you through the jungle. However, your body doesn’t know the difference between a lion chasing you and an unrealistic work deadline. The stress response in the body is the same whether there is physical danger (such as a lion chasing you) or psychological worry (such as the fear of not getting everything done on time).
The stress response is perfectly healthy when there’s a real emergency but if your body is constantly getting stress signals for everyday issues you’re going to get burnt out.
You have two systems, the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS).
Stress stimulates the SNS to prepare the body to take action and avoid danger. When your brain perceives danger it sends messages to your adrenal glands, resulting in the secretion of hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline.
These hormones can be seen as physiological changes within the body and include:
Increased breathing rate
Increased blood sugar
Increased blood fats
The combination of the reactions that occur within the body when it is exposed to stress is often known as the ‘fight or flight’ response.
After the stress response passes your body attempts to return to its normal state through the activation of the PNS. Opposite to the SNS the PNS signals the body to conserve energy and rest. This state is commonly called the ‘rest and digest’ response.
However with today’s fast paced lifestyles returning to a normal state doesn’t always happen as fast as we would like. Every-day worries at work and at home are causing many of us chronic stress.
Often the stress response is being triggered to often resulting in the body remaining on high alert. This causes your body to build up resistance and tolerance to continuous stresses. It is this extended release of stress hormones that has negative effects on your body.
Issues caused by chronic stress:
Heart Disease, increased risk of heart attack
Bloating, stomach cramps, nausea
Increased fat storage (particularly around the abdomen)
Decreased immunity and ability to recover from illness
Aches and pains in the joints
Mental health issues, including depression and anger
Sleep disturbances and tiredness
Sexual dysfunction, loss of libido & irregular menstrual cycles.
Running in this state is not sustainable. Your emergency resources become depleted and your body will begin to shut down,we often know of this as burnout. When you think about it your body is really not designed to feel like it is constantly being chased by a lion!
It comes as a surprise to me that so many people continue to live in this wired state, when there are so many effective ways to activate the parasympathetic nervous system. It is vital for your health and longevity to find something that works for you.
Simple and effective techniques that reduce stress:
Connecting with nature and practicing the now (link)
Practicing yoga and meditation
Prioritise your work tasks and focus on one thing at a time
De-clutter your workspace and home, ensuring they are peaceful
Learn to say no and delegate tasks when you have no time
Ultimately you need to change your lifestyle, which may sound like a daunting task. However it really is simple by making a few small changes in your lifestyle.
I’ve been health coaching for a number of years and unfortunately the number of people that come to me for help is increasing. Most of my clients hold onto the belief that “after this event things will calm down” or they state “I just need a holiday and then I will be fine”. If this is how you think you are fighting an uphill battle. There will always be a new event coming up and you will always return to reality after your holiday.
The ONLY cure is a shift in lifestyle from a stressed lifestyle to a balanced one. We all have stresses that fire up the SNS, that is unavoidable, but the more we can lean towards using the PNS, the healthier we will become. The sooner you can start the transition the more quality years you will add to your life.
If you have started the transition to a balanced lifestyle we would love you to share your tips below!
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