We all experience moments of stress and that is quite normal. Think of a job interview, exams, deadlines, a first date, …
The way we experience stress and deal with it is unique to each of us. But what does it do to your body and what can you do about it?
What is stress?
Stress is a natural phenomenon in our bodies. It can be traced back thousands of years ago, when as hunters we were constantly confronted with life-threatening situations.
During stress, the body wants to arm itself as well as possible against unexpected circumstances. As a result, your body and mind become more alert and you can feel fear or tension. So it can be seen as a protective reaction that enables us to react to dangerous events.
We can rightly conclude from this that stress is a good phenomenon! But beware, over the years our bodies have evolved so that a stress reaction is not only applied to life-threatening situations, but also to work pressure, approaching deadlines or socially unpleasant situations… Here, too, stress can be a good thing. With an approaching deadline, for example, you can experience a boost of energy and concentration. This is what we popularly call a healthy dose of stress. But stress can also have a blocking effect, which inhibits productivity. The way you experience stress is very personal.
Fortunately, this normally passes when the cause of the stress is overcome. However, when stressful situations occur in constant succession or persist, such as when the workload is constantly too high, the stress reaction may remain chronically activated and the body may permanently be in an alarm phase. This can lead to disastrous psychological and physical consequences.
What exactly is happening in the body?
When the senses perceive an event, this information is immediately processed in the brain. The brain interprets the information and, in the event of danger, sends out a distress signal that activates the sympathetic or autonomic nervous system. This part of the nervous system controls involuntary bodily functions such as breathing, heartbeat, etc.
During the rapid stress response, the sympathetic nervous system is activated. Hormones, such as adrenaline, are released causing increased heart rate, blood pressure and muscle tension. The body is alert and ready to react.
Afterwards, the slow stress response is activated, releasing various hormones such as cortisol. This maintains the stress response. Cortisol is a primary stress hormone that increases metabolism, making sufficient energy available to the body. It works via a negative feedback system. This means that when the amount of cortisol increases in the body, the release of cortisol decreases. When the danger has passed, the body produces ‘feel good’ hormones such as endorphins and dopamine to restore the original balance in the body.
When the body is undergoing chronic stress and the stress response is therefore constantly engaged, this can have harmful consequences. The body is in a constant state of alarm and has no time to recover. This can have a negative impact on various physiological functions such as metabolism, growth, reproduction, the immune system, personality development and behaviour. When the stress is very high and/or persists for a long time, it can also have a mental impact and result in, for example, anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
How do you know if you are suffering from chronic stress?
It is sometimes difficult to discover whether you are suffering from chronic stress; you will not, as you would expect, remain in a permanent state of alertness. On the contrary, the body becomes exhausted.
Some symptoms are:
- Sleeping badly
- Irritability and moodiness
- Tense, nervous
- Reduced appetite, or severe binge eating
- Tense muscles
- Panic or fear
What can you do against stress?
- Be aware of your typical stress moments. Try to eliminate them before they become a problem. Make sure you plan ahead so that you stay ahead of the pressure and the tasks do not pile up. A good preparation can also reduce a lot of stress. For example, rehearse your text sufficiently when you have to speak in front of a group, prepare a few standard answers for a job application, etc.
- Pay attention to a healthy eating and sleeping pattern. This can arm you better and increase your resistance to stress. Read our blog how you can improve your sleep pattern.
- Make sure you have enough relaxation. Both physically and mentally, let your muscles relax completely in a hot bath or steamy sauna. And spoil your head with a nice film or book.
- Hit the brakes in time or press the pause button!
- Ask for help! Ask for help if the workload or pressure is too great. But above all, dare to ask for help for your mental well-being. Talk to people you trust or to a professional.
- Sometimes support in the form of natural supplements can also help.
- Above all, it is important to give yourself time to make adjustments to your lifestyle and integrate them step by step.
Adaptogenic plants, natural anti-stress!
Adaptogenic plants are plants that increase the non-specific resistance to stress and reduce the sensitivity to stressors. So your body can handle stress longer. The effect of these plants has been extensively scientifically proven. Some examples are: ginseng, rhodiola, ashwaganda, …