What is Stress?

We all feel stressed from time to time. And perhaps more in 2020. But stress really isn't always a bad thing. It's a fact of life. 

And sometimes that little bit of stress can help us push towards getting something accomplished. 

Furthermore, we react differently to stress for different events. You might react differently than I do. And we might react differently to the same type of stress trigger, depending on the circumstance. 

A lot of things can cause us to have stress. We might react to a flat tire or getting cut off in traffic or being attacked on social media. But we may not react. The reality is: 

Stress is bad, when we perceive it as bad. 

If something happens, we get to choose how we react. We basically create our own stress. 

Let's back up just a little and talk about what stress is. In simple terms, stress is a reaction within the body to a circumstance. More to the point, stress is a natural function of the body, designed to get us out of danger. Hormones especially cortisol and adrenaline, as well as other things like glucose are released into our blood, the digestion and the immune system are both shut down, so that all of our energy is directed towards getting out of danger. There's a whole cascade of activity meant to help us escape that danger. 

Our bodies are in one of two states at any point in time:

  • The sympathetic system’s Fight/flight/freeze response. 
  • The parasympathetic system’s Rest-and-Digest response.

The fight/flight/freeze response is controlled by our sympathetic nervous system. It's designed to be active for short periods of time - maybe 20 or 30 minutes. And it usually takes our body about 72 hours to recover.

The second state is called rest and digest and is controlled by the parasympathetic system. This is where you want to be most of the time,

Those chemicals released during the fight or flight response are powerful survival chemicals. And they can do us a lot of good short term, but they can wreak havoc on the body when they hang around for longer periods. If you truly are in danger, and you have to run from that tiger, or to get out of that burning house, those chemicals are burned up, used up and cleared from your bloodstream. But over time, as we stress about the things that happen to us, day to day; as we live in a fearful or anxious state for much of our time, we can be in that fight or flight response for a good part of our day. Eight hours. 10 hours. Sometimes up to 16 hours in a day. And all those chemicals are being released over and over during that time. We're not running from any danger so we're not burning them up. They're just building up. And they begin to cause us problems.

During chronic stress, the first thing they do is they actually add to our stress and anxiety. Then they can cause inflammation, which is powerful in terms of disease. Furthermore, digestion was shut down, so we could likely have indigestion. Our immune system is shut down, so our immunity is down and we're more likely to become ill. 

All that extra glucose running around in the blood can eventually lead to type two diabetes.

There's more. Left unchecked, that chronic stress can cause even more problems. It can result in chronic pain, headaches and migraines, high blood pressure, arthritis. Eventually it can lead to vascular issues stroke and heart disease. 

More and more professionals are recognizing that stress-created inflammation is a cause of up to 90% of chronic illness. It's not hard to see how that could be true if it's going to cause all those problems. Clearly, reducing our stress is important to our overall health. 

The stress response also shuts off certain parts of our brain. The parts we won't be needing when we're running from danger. So our creativity will be down and our ability to plan and come up with new ideas. If you're trying to run a business, all that stress is not what you want in your life.

We want to be able to think clearly. React calmly. Be creative. Come up with new ideas, and be able to plan. And we want to be able to access our own inner wisdom. 

How does stress show up for you? How does it feel in your body? How do you know you’re stressed? Share in the comments, if you like.