Stress is a physiological response our body has to certain stimuli.
Stress is defined by the pressure or tension exerted on a material object; or a state of mental or emotional strain resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances.
Stress is good.
We need it to get stronger, leaner, and smarter. Without an appropriate amount of stress, the body becomes lethargic. Stress actually keeps us sharp.
Our bodies are smart and have learned the ability to adapt to the environment. When our body is stressed via exercise or resistance, cardiovascular stress (running), thinking or focusing on the buildup of our “to do list”, or even illness or injury, it stores that data and adapts. In doing so, our body gains:
- Strength and agility
- Cardiovascular efficiency
- Better memory, coordination, and acuity as our brain and nervous system fire more accurately
- Faster recovery when injured or ill as it gains more strength and immunity.
The struggle comes when we are over or under-stressed. We have to train our mind and bodies to better cope with stress. We cannot have these positive changes from stress if we are never tested and tried.
Stress is a factor in all our lives. Everyone needs to have some healthy coping mechanism in order to turn stress into a benefit for our bodies.
Since many of us do not have a proper coping mechanism, we tend to be overstressed. This is the state of being where our bodies, emotions, and mental health are compromised because there is no release of the pressure that builds up. Chronic over stressing can lead to things like increased blood pressure, increased risk of heart disease and other heart related problems, increased risk of stroke, increased fat, decreased muscle mass, and bad sleep quality, among many other negative effects.
Whenever our body is stressed it releases a hormone known as cortisol. Cortisol does have beneficial purposes, otherwise it would not exist in our bodies.
However, when our bodies are hit with a with a stressor, it reacts in a fight or flight response and produces more cortisol. As this spike in cortisol is released, it creates a cascade of events that:
- Prevents the use of glucose being stored by inhibiting insulin production and rushing the glucose (energy that is readily available);
- Narrows the arteries, while releasing epinephrine, forcing the heart to beat harder and faster to deal with the stressor.
- After the stressor is dealt with, cortisol and epinephrine levels return to normal.
High chronic cortisol levels have obvious harmful effects like the ones listed above with chronic stress. The cortisol levels are remaining high because the person has not productively dealt with the stressor at hand, or the body has not identified that the stressor has been dealt with.
Our ability to manage the stressors in our life help our bodies understand and identify when stress is present and when it is finished. This helps our hormone levels to return to normal.
Some productive coping mechanisms include:
- Yoga or stretching
- Actively decompressing
- Releasing burdens
- Alone time
- Resting or sleeping
- And deep BREATHING!!