What is Stress?

Stress is our body’s natural physiological response to help our body rise up to the challenge when faced with danger. Both animals and humans are hard wired with a “fight or flight” response to deal with dangerous situations.

Eg: Imagine a caveman being attacked by a tiger. It is vital that his whole body gets instantly ready with a burst of energy to allow him to fight if he can, or flee as fast as he can to get out of the danger. His survival depends on how fast his body reacts in this situation. The body immediately responds before we can even think. As soon as the hypothalamus in the brain perceives a threat, alarm system gets activated, and the stress hormones adrenaline & cortisol get released.Adrenaline: increases heart rate, blood pressure, and energy supplies
Cortisol: Increases sugars in blood stream
Ø      Enhances brain’s use of glucose
Ø      Increases substances that repair tissues
Ø      Curbs nonessential functions such as: Digestive system, immune system, reproductive system and growth processes.
Ø      The complex alarm system also communicates with regions of the brain that control mood, 
          motivation and fear.

It makes total sense that in an emergency, our body shuts off all the non-essential functions, activates the sympathetic nervous system and gets our body to deal with the danger by filling it with energy, increasing heart rate, and brain working fast. When the danger passes, the body returns to normal by activating the parasympathetic nervous system which calms down the heart and restores the digestive, immune, growth systems.

But most of the dangers in our modern society are not physical situations that require the body to fight or flee. This response is very crucial when we are being physically attacked but is not helpful when you are faced with a challenge as a job loss, or stuck in traffic. When you are stuck in traffic, worried about getting late to work, your brain seeing the danger, triggers the stress hormones, making your heart rate go up, brain go faster, and body filled with energy while shutting off or slowing down the digestion etc.

Whenever the brain perceives any demand, challenge or threat, the body responds with the ‘fight or flight’ reaction, by shutting off all normal functioning and filling our body with energy, causing a lot of wear and tear. Moreover, the mental stresses such as the threat of job loss is not a quick challenge that comes and goes. When the body has to function in emergency mode for days, weeks together, slowing down digestion, growth, immune system etc, it has a deep negative impact on our health and well being. 

The key here is that the body reacts with stress response whenever the brain tells it that it is in danger. Here is where we have a lot of control in how we interpret any given situation to our body. The loss of a job or a divorce can be interpreted as a huge catastrophe as if the earth under our feet is shaking or part of the life process and may be an opportunity for something better. You choose!

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