Stress, either physiological or biological, is an organism’s response to a stressor such as an environmental condition. Stress is the body’s method of reacting to a condition such as a threat, challenge, or physical and psychological barrier. But beyond a certain point, stress stops being helpful and starts causing major damage to your health, mood, productivity, relationships, and your quality of life.
Stress is acute when it is short term, which happens due to mild condition bothering us, it remains for a while and then goes away, also known as stress response but it becomes chronic, when it is long lasting and may prolong for a week or more. When it lasts for a month or more the person becomes habitual of remaining in stress as the unmanaged stress may change the biochemistry of the body and it may lead to physical and mental health problems.
Science behind stress:
When a situation occurs and the information is sent to the brain to identify, if brain identifies it as a threat or danger the sympathetic nervous system becomes awakened, and as a defense, it alerts the endocrine system to release a set of hormones including adrenaline, non-adrenaline, and cortisol leading to flight-fight or freezes response which is a normal stress response leading to increased heart rate, respiratory rate, muscles get tensed and the immune system becomes activated. The liver releases glucose to provide more energy and the non-essential functions shut down, when the dangerous situation is over the brain and body return to normal. This is acute stress. What most of us are facing today is chronic stress, due to the busy rat race, unhealthy lifestyles, lack of proper sleep, competition, and life-threatening global pandemic like COVID -19, the drip-drip effect of the stress response has put our nervous system on continuous stress and it has forgotten to relax. This in turn has increased sleep problems, migraine, exhaustion, panic attack, anxiety disorder, depression, and reduced immunity. It has also affected productivity, lack of motivation, emotional eating, substance abuse, and changes in sex drive.
Stress can damage three key areas of brain – the Hippocampus, Limbic system and Pre-frontal cortex. This leads to problems in performing, executing functions, memory, emotional regulation and decision making, fears and anxiety causing panic attack.
It is now well known that if we manage our stress in a healthy way we can prevent damage to our body and brain. When we consciously choose to do something about our stress we can have a healthy brain.
So the first step is to identify your stress triggers that start the stress response, this may be —physical (fever, pain, illness), social and emotional (family demands, relationship issues, disorganized, work disharmony, job and money related concerns, changes in your life situations), environmental (change of place, loss of a messy home, weather conditions, traffic situations), etc.
The second step is to take action to reduce the stress level. For example, if you know you have physical pain, go and seek advice from the doctor to reduce the stress caused by the pain.
The third step is to learn healthy coping mechanisms. Everyone faces stressful situations in life, we have seen that some people cope better than others as they have more resilience power. Their stress management (resilience) tool kit includes:
- Physical exercise
- Mindfulness exercises
- Healthy eating
- Adequate sleep
- Creative skills
- Good sense of humor
- Positive attitude
- Seek professional advice
Stressors may be different for each one of us but each one of us has the ability to learn the skill of resilience to protect our body and brain from the harmful effects of chronic stress. Let’s learn to take a deep breath to get energized with the natural resource available and slowly breathing out to release all the stress and unwanted energies out from every cell of our body. Train the mind to relax and learn to respond to the stressors in a positive way.
Sleep is very essential for our well-being, it affects almost every aspect of life from metabolism, to immune function, to mental health. It helps in regulating emotions, memory, and attention and learning. Sleep builds cognitive strength by repairing the cells.