Stress. We all know it and live with it every day. Sometimes, stress can be seen as a positive force that helps us to better work or sport performance. Other times–e.g. when we’re stuck in traffic jam–we see stress in purely negative light.
But what’s the source of stress?
Stress is basically a present left to us by our predecessors, all thanks to evolution. Originally, stress was very functional protection against predators and other threats. When our ancient predecessors stood in face of danger, their brain released hormones into their blood, increased their blood pressure and quickened their pulse. Then they were ready to either fight or flight.
Even though today we rarely stand a chance to be eaten alive by a predator, our bodies consider both real and imaginary threats the same way. Whether it’s a deadline for a project, bills being due, caring for children or conflict with a partner, our body has the tendency to activate its emergency system, mobilize all energy resources and choose one of those two evolutionarily tried and true responses.
Given the fact that most stressful situations today can’t be solved by attacking somebody or running away, all the mobilized energy is unused and bottled in our body, and, in a long run, harmfully affects our health.
Although stress – in its acute form – can be felt as a discomfort (e.g. stomach pains before important presentation etc.), it’s the chronic stress that impacts our health more severely. Once stress becomes an unreflected part of our daily life, it starts to affect our mental wellbeing (fatigue, not being able to focus, irritability) and more importantly increases the risk of serious illnesses. The results of numerous studies confirm that stress can lead to depression, cardiovascular diseases, a damage to immune system, and in all probability cause cancer.
What makes chronic stress so dangerous is the fact that after some time, people just stop noticing it. They start considering it as something common and standard, and have no urge to resolve the situation. Gradually, this resignation leads to the exhaustion of their physical and mental resources, burnout, and spiraling though all the negative symptoms of chronic stress we can imagine.
It there a way out of it?
Identify Your Stressors: Try to identify what’s the most frequent cause of your stress. Once you find the trigger, write it down and try to come up with a solution for the situation at hand. This reflection can help you to set more realistic expectations for yourself as well as for people around you. At the same time, it will help you to set your priorities and pinpoint where you need help from other people.
Establish Strong Relationships: Relationships with the people closest to us can be the most effective triggers. However, strong and quality relationships can be an important part of stress prevention. Don’t be afraid to confide in your family and friends. Not only can these people help you with your problems, they can also give you an advice or show you a new viewpoint.
Set the Right Habits: According to surveys, 40% of people have trouble with sleeping due to stress. If you want to sleep better, restrict your caffeine intake, move TV and PC out of your bedroom and try to go to sleep every day at the same time. Research also shows that activities such as yoga and exercise (including walking) helps to reduce stress, strengthens immune system and promotes the production of endorphins, also known as the “happy hormone.”
Ask for Help: When you tried everything but still feel stressed, don’t be afraid to ask for professional help. Psychologist or other professional in the field of mental health can help you to identify behaviour or situations that leads to chronic stress, establish new strategies for facing those situations, and finally learn to effectively handle any stress that comes your way.