Stress is not necessarily a ‘bad’ thing. Without this brilliant ability to feel stress, humankind wouldn’t have survived. Our cavemen ancestors, for example, used the onset of stress to alert them to a potential danger, such as a sabre-toothed tiger.
Stress is primarily a physical response
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, fast 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.
Stress in the modern world
In this hyperconnected world, the ‘fight or flight’ mode can still help us survive dangerous situations, such as reacting swiftly to a person running in front of our car by slamming on the brakes or meeting demanding deadlines or coping with daily health challenges.
The REAL challenge is when our body goes into a state of stress in inappropriate situations. When blood flow is going only to the most important muscles needed to fight or flee, brain function is minimised. This can lead to an inability to ‘think straight’; a state that is a great hindrance in both our work and home lives. If we are kept in a state of stress for long periods, it can be detrimental to our health. The results of having elevated cortisol levels can be an increase in sugar and blood pressure levels, a decrease in libido, even a compromised immune system.
Biofeedback helps a person learn stress reduction skills by providing information about muscle tension, heart rate, and other vital signs as a person attempts to relax. It is used to gain control over certain bodily functions that cause tension and physical pain.
Biofeedback can be used to help you learn how your body responds in stressful situations, and how to cope better. If a headache, such as a migraine, begins slowly, many people can use biofeedback to stop the attack before it becomes full- blown.
How can we handle stress in healthy ways?
Lengthy exposure to stress may lead to mental health difficulties (for example, anxiety and depression) or increased physical health problems. While no one can avoid all stress, you can work to handle it in healthy ways that increase your potential to recover, paying attention to your overall health and wellbeing.
Let’s explore these solutions in today’s edition of Health Plus.
Wellness hacks for reducing stress
• ↓Reducing the triggers of stress. Determine what needs to be done now and what can wait a little bit.
• ↓Set priorities and boundaries. Learn to turn down new tasks that may overextend or overwhelm you.
• ↓Take time to cultivate your relationships with loved ones.
• ↓Burn off steam. Keep your heart healthy with regular exercise.
• ↓Try out relaxation techniques such as yoga, deep breathing, or meditation.
• ↓Make sleep a priority. Aim for seven to eight hours per night.
• ↓Stressful habits can lead to unhealthy indulgences of overeating, excessive drinking and/or smoking. Being mindful of these habits can help curb them.
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