19th July 2016 by Zoe Foster
In the previous article we covered some Relaxation Techniques that might help you combat the feeling of stress or anxiety. We also mentioned that most stress is good – a natural response that increases our performance. Now we will look at how we respond physically to stress.
So, how does stress affect our bodies? How can it be good?
If we are performing well under stress, then you might recognise some of the physical feelings. Your muscles tense, your heart will beat faster, you might even start sweating or have a dry mouth. Adrenalin is rushing through your blood stream. For those of you who love the thrill of a fast sport or difficult challenge, this will feel familiar. You will also feel ‘sharper’, more focussed mentally. You will find you have a burst of energy that may not have been there before. Your response to pain will be numbed. These are due to other chemicals such as Norepinephrine and Cortisol.
Why do we react this way?
We have our survival instincts intact despite our modern lives. These are called Fight – Flight – Freeze. We either fight our enemy, fly (run) from our enemy or play dead (freeze). Instead of getting a burst of chemicals to ready to fight a bear, we get the same response when we have a near miss in our car or walk into an interview. Fight or flight requires us to lighten our load as much as possible, so you might need the bathroom or may feel sick.
Great, so when is it bad?
Sometimes we simply are not aware of our stress levels. We are too busy ‘doing’. We are designed to have occasional states of stress. If in a constant state of stress, we may get lots of colds, a repetitive bad back, headaches or repeatedly upset tummies. We may get aches and pains where our muscles are constantly taut.
If our stress is extreme, we may find ourselves constantly fatigued from constantly being on high alert. We may not be able to sleep, or when we do we grind our teeth. We may feel shaky. The feeling of butterflies or a dry mouth may now be there constantly. Ultimately, we feel irritable and out of sorts but are simply too busy to really understand what’s going on. We may no longer be performing at our best. We may struggle to concentrate on important tasks or feel our communication with others has become fractious.
What should I do?
Being self-aware is a great first step. It’s a little like realising you are feeling unwell as a precursor to having a cold. You begin to recognise the signs. You might ignore this feeling. Maybe friends, colleagues or family will notice something different in you and mention it. Trust this feedback and your own intuition.
If you are aware of consistent stress, you might not always be ready to change things. This is fine. It’s important to trust yourself and know when it feels ready to make a change.
The next article – Modern Stresses: Changing the Dynamic