This Thursday the BBC will launch a new programme 'The Truth About Stress'. In this programme Fiona Phillips will explore some of the very latest scientific research behind stress and demonstrate a number of techniques designed to decrease common stress factors. They will ask the question "is stress inherently bad for us?", and will explore the notion that stress in small doses can actually be quite good for us. This has certainly piqued our interest. We have taken the opportunity to also consider how stress affects us by looking at how our bodies respond to stress, where we can learn from this and turn it into an advantage.
Going into the Lions Den!
Our bodies are built to deal with stress and given the right terrain, are very capable vessels. During a stressful situation adrenaline and noradrenaline are released to prepare us for fight or flight. Blood sugar levels rise as stored glycogen is converted to glucose, the heart pumps faster to get more oxygen and nutrients to the muscles, respiratory passageways dilate to increase the airflow and even blood clotting agents are mobilised in case we are wounded. If a lion was to enter a room our bodies would respond by directing blood away from our gut making digesting that quinoa salad we had for lunch pretty low on the agenda! Nowadays the lion is more likely to be an angry boss or delays on the commuter line but the physiology remains the same now as it did in the Stone Age. This highly sophisticated stress response is actually protective, not harmful.
Stressors are a normal component of life and can be a positive influence on the body when appropriate mechanisms function well. Stressors may stimulate growth and strengthen neural connections in the brain. They provides the body with a temporary immunity boost and heighten our sense of awareness driving us to success. But it is when we no longer feel in control of a situation that stress has a negative impact on our health and wellbeing.
Spiralling out of control
Cortisol is a stress hormone which plays an important role in the immune system, maintaining blood pressure and improving mood. However, produced in excess, when stress becomes chronic, can lead to raised blood sugar and weakened immunity, leaving us vulnerable to colds, flu and their immune related disorders. Chronic stress also leads to poor gut health as digestion remains perpetually low on the priority list when the body's stress response is constantly heightened and blood is being diverted elsewhere. When a stressor is severe and the body is unable to adapt, the body's systems become more disruptive and a vicious cycle may occur when the original stressor remains and the effects of this stressor prevent the body from coping with new stressors. This adds to the person's stress lessening their coping capabilities even further. In the same way ignoring the stress or eating unwisely are likely to add more problems without removing the original stress factor. Introducing and maintaining personal coping mechanisms is therefore essential...
There is light at the end of the tunnel
- Laugh out loud! A good belly laugh doesn't just lighten the load mentally, it lowers cortisol and boost our endorphins making us instantly feel alive.
- Tune in! Lighten up mentally by tuning into your favourite TV programme, read something funny or make a call to a friend you can guarantee will make you smile.
- Decompress. Place a warm wheat or cherry stone pillow around your neck and shoulders for 10 minutes. Close your eyes and relax your face. Remove the pillow and use a tennis ball or foam roller to massage away any tension in these areas.
- Reaching out. Your social network is one of your best tools for handling stress. Talk to others, preferably face to face or at least on the phone. Share what's going on. You can get a fresh perspective while keeping your connection with your friends and relatives. You may also consider reaching out and stepping into a talking therapy such as life coaching to help you explore the foundations of your self-limiting beliefs and move though the fears which are causing your stress in the first instance.
- Relaxing treatments. Book yourself in for a relaxing treatment. Treatments such as massage, reflexology, facial therapy and reiki are all proven to reduce tension in your mind and body. We recommend a minimum of one treatment every month will give you the opportunity to take time out of your busy and hectic schedule to strengthen and reconnect.
- Become inspired. Blow the stress away by turning the stressful energy into mindful action. Make a to-do list starting with one action that will move you away from your current negative thought process. Maybe that action is to make more time for yourself or book a holiday you have been meaning to do for a while.
Sarah, Sam and Karenanne x