Most of us ignore or suppress our stress response. Think about where you commonly become stressed for example at work. Most of us swallow (literally and metaphorically) the stress we experience in that context; we sit on it, smile through it, go to the toilet and scream/cry etc. We do anything except deal with it. This is not surprising when you consider most of us were never taught how to deal with stressors. We usually replicate what our parents did/do – and as much as we love our parents – most of us grew up in homes devoid of effective stress managers. They too swallowed it, drank it, shouted it, medicated it etc.
With avoidance as the default stress management system we generally end up in the third stage of Selye’s stress cycle i.e. the ‘exhaustion’ stage. Exhaustion is when we have become so intrinsically depleted that we have no reserves, no space/energy for rejuvenation and are physically and emotionally vulnerable to disease. Without effective stress management strategies, over time suppression becomes our MO for dealing with excessively stressful situations. Our bodies adapt to the stress by functioning at higher and higher levels (i.e. as if we are constantly in the war zone). We sub consciously set up a pattern of storing stress in our bodies. Eventually being chronically stressed becomes ‘normal’ and we are well on our way to exhaustion/burn out.
OK, so what I described above are the ‘gross physical expressions’ of stress. Now consider the corresponding internal drivers of what is happening externally. Heard of cortisol? Cortisol is released into the blood stream while under stress. There are many physiological and biological changes that occur when one is placed under duress and most of them can be harmful to our healthy survival and homeostatic balance if experienced long term. Rapid aging and decreased bodily efficiency result from chronic high stress. But for the sake of illustration let’s focus on cortisol. Prolonged levels of cortisol in the bloodstream – which is classically linked with exposure to prolonged duress – have been shown to result in:
- Affected cognition – poor thinking/memory etc
- Lowered thyroid
- Blood sugar imbalances e.g. hyperglycemia
- Osteoporotic type presentation or decreased bone density
- Decreased muscle mass – muscles getting smaller!!!
- High blood pressure
- Poorly affected immunity – slowed wound healing, and other health consequences
- Inflammation in the body,
- Increased abdominal fat which is associated with more serious health problems than fat deposited in any other area of the body e.g. heart attacks, strokes, the development of metabolic syndrome, higher levels of “bad” cholesterol (LDL) and lower levels of “good” cholesterol (HDL)
To keep cortisol levels in balance, you need to activate the body’s relaxation response after you experience a stressful event. You can learn to relax your body with various stress management techniques, or you can use stress management tools such as the Shakti and you can make lifestyle changes to minimise the harm your body experiences from its reaction to stress.
Like I said earlier – prolonged exposure to duress is problematic when it is not effectively dealt with effectively. Many of us are not aware the ‘after effects’ of stress needs to be dealt with and so we go along accumulating more. The body stores stress and it stores the effects of unresolved past trauma (something homoeopaths have always treated).
Remember Pavlov dogs? That’s also humans with (in this example) unresolved stress – though it could be applied to any habit. We all know someone who over reacts. The littlest thing sets these people off and they “lose it”. The trigger event (bell) kicks off their habituated response (stress) and the person reacts to this situation with all the stored/unresolved stress. This is the person who ‘shoots a mosquito with a double barrel shot gun’ and it does not always have to be aggression, it can be tears, withdrawal or any other number of reactions. The point is, the reaction is out of proportion to what a reasonable person would consider appropriate to the event. These people ‘over react‘ to everything because their body takes the opportunity to release the stored effects of unresolved stress. The body will use any opportunity it can find to release ‘stuff’ stored in the mind/body – almost like setting off a relief valve. So while they appear to be overreacting – they are actually helping themselves deal with stress. It’s just a shame for them and for everybody else they had to get to that point in the first place…
Like I said earlier, most of us react poorly to stressors because we have no other emotional/cognitive strategies to draw on. And usually we lack the resources to deal with the after effects of our outburst – either personally and/or with the other person/people concerned. This can very well result in more stress as we berate ourselves on our inadequacies. You can see it easily becomes a vicious cycle.
In the next article we are going to look at a new way of dealing with stress which will surprise you as and you will never guess who or what is at the centre of it all.
Till then enjoy