Stress is a hot topic these days. There are many studies that link stress to inflammation and chronic diseases, and it can also influence our behavior and affect every aspect of our life. But some say that a certain amount of stress can be a good thing, as our emotional experience comes down to our interpretation of a situation.
For example, think back (for some of us, think way back!) to a first date you had with someone you really liked. How did you feel? You might have felt like you had “butterflies in your stomach” or an elevated heart rate. Maybe you were a little sweaty and didn’t feel like eating. Now think about a time when you were anxious about a work project. Did your stomach turn? Maybe your heart pounded and you were sweating? These symptoms sound similar, don’t they? That’s because they are. The difference is how we perceive them.
Stress happens when your brain perceives a disconnect between a situation and our resources to deal with it. But in some instances this can be a good thing. Our fight-or-flight response (also called the hyperarousal) is a stress response that evolved as a survival mechanism so that we could flee life threatening situations. That is a good thing. Without a little stress, most students wouldn’t study for their finals. So the stress that makes them study is also considered a good thing.
The Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) Axis is a network made up of the hypothalamus, pituitary, and adrenal glands, and is involved in our response to acute stress. However, low-level stress that becomes chronic keeps the HPA axis activated and “running in the background” in your body, which contributes to many health issues.
Unfortunately, your body does not always recognize the difference between the stress of a traffic jam and a life-threatening incident, and can overreact to stressors that are non-threatening. If we perceive something as a threat, our body goes into stress mode, releasing hormones into the blood. Over time, long-term effects of chronic stress can impact your physical and psychological health. Therefore, it is important to try to manage your reactions to situations in order to avoid chronic stress.
Here are a few stress management strategies to try:
- Manage stress by changing the way you perceive things. If a situation is truly stressful, can you change the situation? Or, can you change the way you view the situation?
- Make sure you get some physical activity.
- Get plenty of sleep.
- Try meditation (see our blog post to get started!).
- Talk with a family member, friend, or professional.
- Journal to pinpoint what might be triggering your stress if you don’t already know.
- Limit your caffeine, sugar, and alcohol intake.
- Ultimately, if your stress level is too high or is going on for an extended period of time, always seek professional help.
Living a low-stress lifestyle is one of the best things you can do for your health, so we hope these tips help!