We’ve all felt stressed before. Exams, money worries, family issues, friend drama. Whatever negatively impacts your life is sure to bring with it some stress. But what actually is it? And what does it actually do to us?
Stress is a state of emotional tension that we experience when our brain thinks that we are under threat. It developed as a very useful feature which helped us to run away from predators, and other immediate dangers. When our brain senses that it’s under threat, it instructs our body to release several hormones, including one called cortisol.
The hormone cortisol has several key roles in preparing us for danger:
- It affects our immune system, preparing us for injury
- Makes us hyper aware of potential threats
- Increases glucose levels in our blood, so that we have the energy to run
- Suppresses our digestive system, because if we’re under threat we don’t need to be worrying about eating
- Increases our blood pressure, so that we get blood to our muscles more quickly
- Reduces our sensitivity to pain, in case we are injured.
All of these effects are very useful in short-term emergency situations
The problem now, is that our modern society is filled with lots of things that make our brain feel threatened, or under attack. These small things can add up, making us feel stressed
We are all unique, so each of us can tolerate a different level of stress before it gets overwhelming. Some people can “fill up” more quickly than others, meaning they get stressed more easily, and that’s OK.
Whatever your capacity, whether you’re a tiny teacup or a massive mug, even the small things can add up until they overflow. This can make us feel overwhelmed and out of control.
The good news is there are lots of ways we can reduce our cortisol levels, and show our brains that we are not under threat. The key thing is that dealing with stress requires an active response.
CONNECT WITH NATURE
Whether it’s cycling through the woods, sitting on the beach, or hiking in the hills – being in nature automatically soothes our brain and helps us to relax.
If you can’t get outside, even listening to nature sounds can help you to de-stress.
If you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed, tell someone about it. You don’t have to carry stress by yourself – and sometimes just speaking about it can help us feel more in control. A problem shared is a problem halved.
SAVOUR THE MOMENT
Rather than focusing on the stressful times, we can unwind by focusing on the good moments in our lives. Next time something good happens to you, stop and really enjoy it – taking in all the details about what it feels like.
PUT IT IN PERSPECTIVE
If you find yourself feeling stressed about something, ask yourself –
“How much will this matter tomorrow?”
“How much will this matter next week?”
“How much will this matter next year?”
WRITE A TO-DO LIST
Sometimes we can feel like we don’t have enough time in the day, and this can make us feel stressed. By writing a to-do list, or a schedule, we can allocate time to work, socialise and relax, giving us more balance and control.
Think of as many different solutions to the problem as you can, or look at it from as many points of view as you can. Challenge yourself, to see how many you can come up with.
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