I consider myself fortunate. I would rarely declare myself to feel ‘stressed’. If I am, it tends to be self-imposed rather than the true feeling of the word that others may experience. Stress seems to be on the rise. Mindfulness, yoga, meditation are all ready to help us to de-stress! But are we really stressed?
Stress is when our body is challenged and our means to deal with that challenge does not surpass the level of the challenge itself. Our reaction is still linked to our hunter-gathering days. Cortisol levels (produced by the adrenal gland) rise. This rise produces energy to the muscles and focuses the brain evoking the fight/flight response.
This was a super useful response when the ‘stress’ was an animal that could kill you or when the stress was the very real prospect of starvation.
This response also activates the immune system. The purpose for this would be that this level of stress would formerly lead to some sort of battle, and likely, an injury. The body was then already activated to begin the healing of wounds and the fighting of infections. Have you ever wondered why you always seem to fall ill when you are approaching holiday time? It’s just this. The stress you were experiencing has subsided and as such so has the immune response. The result – you fall ill.
Nowadays, for most humans, stress is an ongoing position which doesn’t benefit us. This constant activation results in constant cortisol and immune responses. The response is depression – not necessarily of just the brain, but a depressed level of hormonal response.
Psychotherapy, mindfulness, relaxation techniques are our way of trying to remind or inform the body that we no longer live in the jungle. We are no longer at life-threatening risk on a daily level. We have to learn that our environment isn’t as stressful. Its purpose is to alter a perception when a stress response is developed.
But here’s the issue. The adult brain produces new brain cells on a regular basis – less than a child but still develops new cells. Chronic stress reduces this. It changes our ability to learn from new environments. Therefore, if you’ve been exposed to stress in childhood, the world will be interpreted as a threatening place. Once we learn that it isn’t stressful, we need our brains to develop this understanding – however with chronic stress we have less brain power to do this.
This is why chronic stress early in life creates a greater risk of later life depression. Research has found that babies born when their mothers had depression are more likely to go on and develop depression themselves.
The importance of, essentially, gaining perspective, is therefore vital. Ask yourself: Is this deadline truly stressful? Is being late a true stressor? Is this aggressive email a point of stress or a reflection of the emotional distress within the sender’s psyche?
Gaining this perspective can help to refocus the mind and as such reduce cortisol rises, reduce the immune response and salvaging those vital brain cells.
Alternatively, view stress as a challenge. Anxiety is simply excitement without breath. Your breath connects deep in the mid brain and is the only source of noradrenalin – the flight/fight chemical. It’s activated in a number of states including excitement and anxiety. It’s chemo sensitive to carbon dioxide levels in the blood. Therefore, if you have oxygen, you’ll feel excitement instead of anxiety.
Every time you feel anxious or stressed, change this by breathing in for 5 seconds. Breathing out for 6 seconds. The result – less carbon dioxide, more oxygen = less anxiety and more excitement.
If all else fails, take a leaf out of Steve Jobs’s book, and go for a walk. Trust me, it’ll lead to de-stressing.
Exercising has an abundance of positive effects on the mood and mental health. There is often talk of the physical benefits of exercise: prevention and treatment of different types of diseases such as heart disease, hypertension, non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus, and osteoporosis; but what about the psychiatric benefits? Read out blog to find out how exercise boosts your mood.