Had one of those days when it feels like there’s too much going on and not enough time? Feeling out-of-control and overwhelmed?
Perhaps there’s pressure at work, relationship issues, kids to look after and run around, domestic duties piling up, social commitments, bills to pay, money worries, trying to make time to exercise, relax, spend more time with the family? It makes me tired just reading this but it’s reality for most of us.
Stress is not essentially bad
We need some stress to motivate us to get things done. We need stress to help us meet work deadlines, study for an exam or motivate us to earn a living to pay the bills. It’s when there is too much stress, over prolonged periods, that we run the risk of burnout – we disengage and withdraw because we feel we just can’t cope.
Day-to-day things we normally do seem like a massive effort and exhausting, so we just stop doing them.
Biologically, stress is linked to our survival instinct, to the fight or flight response. It is the body’s response to real and perceived danger. Thousands of years ago when faced with a sabre tooth tiger the fight or flight response would kick in to make us run, fast!
Out of balance?
When stressed, more blood is pumped around the body for energy – our heart rate increases, more blood is sent to muscles, we use more oxygen for breathing, our nervous system is switched to action, adrenaline is released, and the mind races to find the best escape.
During periods of stress, non-essential systems such as digestion, elimination, reproduction and the immune system receive less blood and are reduced in function.
This imbalance in the body is fine for a short time. Once we’ve escaped the tiger we feel relieved and the body naturally returns to balance. If the body remains imbalanced through ongoing stress, it continues to function in fight or flight mode, which can lead to stress-related diseases.
It’s all in your mind
Today we don’t have the same physical threats in our daily life. Our stress is usually mental or psychological. Yes, it’s all about the mind!
Dr Seligman’s well-known studies on optimism and health found that “it is not the potential stressor itself but how you perceive it and then how you handle it that will determine whether or not it will lead to stress.”.
He goes on to say “how you see things and how you handle them makes all the difference in terms of how much stress you will experience”. What this means is, we have the power to affect the balance between our internal mechanisms for coping with stress, and the stressors that are an avoidable part of living.
So how do we do that? Stay tuned! In my next blog I’ll share my thoughts on how yoga and mindfulness can help with stress, AND my personal sure fire ways to stress less.