I’ve been reading about and trying to understand this stuff for a while now. As per usual, I didn’t really get a handle on it until I set out to write about it in my own words. If you have problems with stress, maybe it’ll help you too.
It is very important to understand that stress is not a failure to man up.
It is an involuntary, physiological response to internal and external stimuli. However, just because it is involuntary, does not mean you have no control!
All of the INVOLUNTARY functions in your body are controlled by either the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) or by the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS). When one is on, the other is off.
- SNS controls your “fight or flight” response.
- PNS controls your “rest and digest” functions.
Stressors set off the SNS response. They cause cortisol and adrenaline to shoot into your blood stream,
- dumping sugar into your blood, so your muscles will have quick fuel,
- making you breathe faster, so your muscles have enough oxygen to use the sugar, and
- increasing your heart rate and directing blood to your brain and to the major muscle groups, so you can think quickly and move with maximum speed and strength.
SNS is supposed to be balanced by PNS. When a stress response is accompanied by vigorous exercise, then followed by rest and relaxation, the cumulative effect on the body is positive.
But when a stress response happens when you’re sedentary, like when you’re under a deadline at work, the cumulative effect is negative.
And when the stress response becomes chronic, it can be deadly.
Some symptoms of chronic stress include damage to your blood vessels, high blood pressure, elevated risk of heart attacks or stroke, anxiety, weight gain, headaches, and insomnia.
Sadly, the part of the brain that sets off the stress response is as stupid as a smoke alarm. It goes off for the right reasons, but it also goes off for the wrong reasons.
Fortunately, you can choose to become a happier, healthier person by learning to limit or eliminate wrong stress responses.
For starters, you need to identify what your wrong responses are, so you can make decisions about what you can and cannot change.
Counseling, meditation, and journaling can help you sort through your life situations and your feelings about them. Some things in your life may need to be eliminated. For others, you may need to change your attitude.
In addition, you can make use of a wide range of tools to help you deactivate your inappropriate SNS responses and activate your healing PNS functions.
Some of these include deep breathing exercises, a balanced, healthy diet, regular exercise, limiting caffeine and alcohol, and avoiding cellphones, bright lights, computers, loud music, and TV right before bedtime.