Some stress is good, it gets us up in the morning, and it’s there to protect us. It’s a physical response when our body thinks we’re in a crisis or under attack, we go into ‘fight, flight or freeze’ mode.
For example, you’re driving, and a person suddenly runs out in front of you, so you react and slam on the brakes! Your heart would be racing, sweaty palms and have a knot in your stomach- that’s the effects from a rush of adrenaline and cortisol to sharpen our minds and body to react quickly; it’s something we don’t expect so our mind sees it as an instant threat. As soon as we realise it’s okay our body calms relatively quickly within 20minutes.
When we become Stressed, our Sympathetic Nervous System alerts the adrenal glands to increase adrenaline and cortisol preparing for fight, flight or freeze. These increase our heart rate to pump the blood to the muscles so we can fight or flee, makes fast shallow breathing to increase oxygen uptake so we can flee quickly, shuts down some bodily functions eg. digestion so the energy isn’t wasted on that, and gives us an energy boost to respond quickly to the situation.
In the early 20th century, American physiologist Walter Bradford Cannon coined the term “fight-or-flight response.”
Therefore, stress is not all bad because without it we would not have survived. Thinking back to early man, stress alerted them to the dangers around them, from wild animals or rival tribesmen.
Having the right cortisol balance is essential for human health and you can have problems if your adrenal gland releases too much or too little cortisol.
What is Cortisol?
Cortisol is a steroid hormone that is produced by the adrenal glands which sit on top of each kidney. When released into the bloodstream, cortisol can act on many different parts of the body and can help:
- your body respond to stress or danger,
- increase your body’s metabolism of glucose,
- control your blood pressure,
- reduce inflammation.
So, we need some stress in our lives. However when the balance gets tipped and everything is viewed as a threat- the what-ifs, everyday tasks, meeting people or going outside the safety of our ‘cave’, then the long term the complex mix of adrenaline and cortisol has a detrimental effect on our physical health.
Chronic stress can cause a whole host of problems.
- causes heart disease because of the constricting of the arteries;
- suppresses our immune system;
- create headaches;
- we have disrupted sleep, insomnia;
- digestive problems such as IBS;
- mental health problems, anxiety and depression;
- weight gain: cortisol’s effect on appetite means we crave high-calorie foods. So repeated elevation of cortisol can lead to weight gain via visceral fat cells, which have more cortisol receptors than subcutaneous fat;
- more at risk of diabetes, the body remains in a general insulin-resistant state when cortisol levels are chronically elevated. Over time, the pancreas struggles to keep up with the high demand for insulin, glucose levels in the blood remain high, the cells cannot get the sugar they need, and the cycle continues;
- memory and concentration impairment, when we’re stressed our brain function is lessened, leading to an inability to think straight or rationally, obviously a state that isn’t ideal in both our work & home lives!; and
- fertility problems.
So how can we reduce Stress?
We need to activate the Parasympathetic Nervous System to counterbalance the Sympathetic Nervous System, to calm the Vagus Nerve, a 2-way ‘traffic system’ from the brain to the gut, calling at all our vital organs along the way.
- Breathing techniques are the quickest way to calm the stress. Try this 7/11 technique- Breathe in for a count of 7 and breathe out for a count of 11, repeating that up to 5 times.
- Reconnect with yourself and things around you by practising mindful activity, meditation, being outside in nature, or try this simple grounding technique- observing 5 things around you, 4 things you can feel, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell, and 1 positive thing in the moment.
- Reach out and connect with others, having fun is good for us, enjoy a walk with friends, the social bonding as well as exercise helps boost our mood and reduces stress.
- Keep your thoughts positive and stop the negatives taking over, understanding what is and isn’t in your control, worrying about things that are not in our control that will never happen anyway.
- Getting a good night sleep so your body can heal and repair, ideally 7-8hours.
- Keep well hydrated.
Stress is one of the great public health challenges as it still isn’t being taken as seriously as physical health concerns.
Creating positivity and productivity in your life comes from seeing your goals as a reality and managing the barriers which are standing in your way. Solution focused hypnotherapy might be the answer you are looking for to help you reduce your stress.
Whether you yourself are struggling to cope, or you have concerns about someone you love, a conversation with me might give you the answers you’ve been looking for. Click here to contact me.