Stress is any factor which threatens our physical or emotional wellbeing. Stress is an important reaction to threatening situations, and the physical reaction is the same whether you are running from a dinosaur or entering a job interview.
When the body perceives danger the brain releases adrenaline. This is known as the ‘fight or flight’ hormone as it prepares the body to either fight or to run from the cause of the stress. The overall effect is that the body speeds up, tenses up, and generally becomes very alert. In the short term you may experience a pounding heart, a feeling of ‘butterflies’ in the stomach, trembling, and sweating.
When the threat disappears the body relaxes. Nowadays, however, it is often difficult to get away from the cause of the stress. In some ways it is easier to run away from a dinosaur than from long-term threats such as money or housing problems.
As a result, the body stays tense and this has damaging long-term effects. These may include chest pains, sleeplessness, stomach aches, headaches, depression and high blood pressure. It has been shown that over a long period of time unmanaged stress can go on to cause heart disease, strokes, cancer and angina.
To avoid the long-term effects of stress it is important to look at ways of managing the body’s response to threatening situations. We cannot just tell our bodies to relax, we have to teach it through doing relaxing activities that slow the body down, encourage deeper breathing, and slow the heart rate.
This might include going for a walk, seeing friends, meditating or having a massage. Take note of how your body feels when you are relaxed and try to remember this feeling. When the body is relaxed problems tend to seem less daunting, which in turn stops tension from building up.