Stress has a bad reputation. When you are tired, don’t feel well, or are feeling run down, the standard answer is “I’m just stressed.” Most people don’t understand the mechanisms of stress or realize that there is a form of stress that is beneficial and useful. Let’s break it down and take a closer look at what stress is and what it does.
When the body experiences stress, several changes take place. The body switches into a fight-or-flight response and floods the body with several chemicals. This reaction increases your heart rate, raises your blood pressure and sharpens your senses. This state allows the body to react quickly to stressful situations, such as avoiding an obstacle or catching a falling object. Small doses of this stress response can also improve the immune system in the long term.
Knowing these positive benefits of stress, it’s a wonder as to why stress could be a bad thing. The dividing line of good or bad is a question of how long you experience that stress. The body is not designed to maintain a heightened level of alertness for very long. When stress lasts for weeks or months, it starts to degrade the immune system. Depression, fatigue, and anxiety begin to manifest. The chemical cocktail released during stress that allows you to dodge a moving car is also quite harmful to the heart with prolonged exposure.
A moderate amount of stress can be quite beneficial. Having an important deadline a few days away can provide motivation to work hard to complete a given task. Stress becomes dangerous when it lasts a long time. An important deadline that is months away and requires continuously high levels of work will burn a person out very quickly. Inability to concentrate, body aches, irritability and other negative issues begin to plague the body. When these negative side effects begin to manifest, it’s important to take steps to manage the stress.
Exercise tends to be one of the greatest stress reliefs that a person can do. It removes one from whatever stress there is and forces concentration on the task at hand. Exercise creates a condition that is opposite the fight-or-flight state that the body is constantly in, and gives the body a chance to recover and heal.
Time management and relaxing are important, but this is often easier said than done. Time management helps prevent stress from increasing and becoming overwhelming. Proper time management is also critical for arranging the time to relax. As you take the time to relax, focus on activities that counteract the fight-or-flight state that the body undergoes when stressed. Concentrate on lowering your heart rate and slowing your breathing. Yoga, meditation or breathing exercises are good options.
Finally, being able to seek appropriate help when necessary is crucial. Reach out to family and friends for help when the number of stressors in your life becomes too high. Allow those who love you to help carry the challenges of life; we are all in this together.