What is stress?
Stress is a term used to describe a state of mental or emotional strain that is triggered in response to a stimulus.
How does it affect us?
When the stress state is triggered our instinctive “fight or flight” response activates a series of neurological reactions to prepare us for high performance, physically and psychologically, for a period of around 20 minutes, including:
- Blood is redirected away from stomach (inhibiting digestion) to upper body (if upper body not exercised, muscle fatigue can be experienced)
- Cortisol thickens blood to stop bleeding out in event of an injury which impacts brain function as filled with thick sticky blood causing cotton wool brain a term describing the foggy thinking experience
- Blood moves away from pre-frontal cortex:
- IQ drops by 20 points
- Black & white thinking no compromise or capacity for empathy
- Actions based on instincts rather than rational thought
- Brain swells (which can cause headaches)
- Creates massive demand on heart due to increased blood flow & blood thickening
This state of high performance cannot be sustained and if it continues for longer than 20 minutes it can lead to exhaustion and lower levels of performance. Over the long term, due to multiple episodes or prolonged exposure, stress can have an impact on an individual’s health and well-being. Such health conditions include:
- Physical: IBS, heart attacks, arthritis, chronic headaches, low sex drive, poor sleep habits, lower life expectancy
- Mental: depression, anxiety, lack of sense of humour, low self esteem
Can stress be helpful?
High levels of stress have a massive impact on performance. However, managed levels of stress can have a positive impact. This can be demonstrated using the Goldilocks principle:
- Too little stress (comfort zone) can result in boredom, depression and apathy
- Too much stress (panic zone) can result in anxiety, overwhelm and burn out
- Just the right amount of stress (stretch zone) provides the important stimulus for human growth and creativity and optimal performance through helping us feel energised and focused
There are several techniques to manage stress including:
- Raising self regard
- Managing the symptoms of stress
- Working on an individual’s choices and abilities to respond when faced with stressful situations
- Raising awareness of personal values and whether they are in alignment (see values tool)
Work on your resilience to:
- Understand what triggers your stress response
- Develop strategies for coping with stressful situations
- Manage the symptoms of stress
- Build your self esteem
- Increase your choices to respond more effectively in the moment
Self-regard – build it and protect it
Self-regard (also referred to as self-esteem) is a term used to describe how much you accept and value yourself as a person. Accepting and valuing ourselves is essential for good health, happiness and success.
People with high levels of self-regard value and accept themselves for who they are, and are clearly able to separate this from tasks and activities.
Relaxation – relax, release tension & re-boost your energy
It is commonly accepted that regular exercise is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. Study after study shows the benefits it can have. Not only does regular exercise help you manage your weight and reduce your risk of developing diseases, it can help prevent and treat mental health problems. It can boost your wellbeing and mood, and is a great way to unwind from the stresses of life.
Resilience – developing habits to build it
Resilient people, being people that respond more favourably to stressful situations, share the following traits:
- They believe in themselves
- They believe they have some power to influence their situation
- They view life’s challenges as opportunities rather than threats
As a result, resilient people are happier and more motivated as well as being in a position to realise their true potential.