Ever wonder why it can feel impossible to get out of overwhelm or floods of stress?
Our stress response arises from deep within our bodies, via the most primal, animalistic part of ourselves. The stress response is a reflex. It happens automatically whenever our brain-body systems perceive any kind of threat.
While we can logically know that an email from our boss isn’t actually dangerous, we still activate the same stress response as if we were being hunted by a lion or being dropped into a war zone.
Our stress response, or threat reflex, is like every other automatic bodily reaction. For example, if you step on a nail, you reflexively lift-up your foot and push the other foot into the ground as a counter reflex so you don’t fall over.
Residing in our brainstem and limbic systems, our stress reflex operates the same way, with the amygdala at the helm. This involves things like a quickening of the heartrate, hypervigilance, and increased ability to access energy stores for movement and rapid thinking. All of our attentional systems “pop-up” to avert us away from the proverbial nail in our foot.
And just like our foot reflex, our stress systems also have a counter: all the circuitry associated with being calm, being able to understand the whole picture of our circumstances, and to literally to see our whole environment and respond objectively, all get shutdown.
To the body, stress is stress is stress. It doesn’t matter what it’s from, what outside influence is causing it, or how fortunate our circumstances may be. The mechanics of stress operate the same in all humans, in all situations, facing any kind of stress.
Most of us typically ignore the stress we feel from every day, non-life-threatening circumstances. While our cognitive brain may know that our lives aren’t in imminent danger, our bodies and physiological states do not.
Ignoring our everyday stress and justifying it to ourselves as being normal or “not that bad” can be quite dangerous to our overall physical health. Living in a constant state of stress causes over production of our stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, increases our heartrate and blood pressure, causes digestive issues and other chronic health issues like migraines and acne.
However, ignoring our chronic stress can be even more dangerous to our mental and emotional health. Living in a constant state of stress, of any kind, shuts us off from access to states of creativity, awe, joy, tranquility, and connection. We lose the very essence of who we are and what it means to thrive.
And since the stress that we face day to day “doesn’t seem that bad”, we don’t notice the slow creep of losing our vitality. If we consistently ignore our stress without proper rest, relaxation, and recovery, stress continues to build in our systems, no matter how minor the stress might seem.
As stress builds, our capacity for living joyful, happy lives shrinks.
It’s important to tend to ourselves in addition to the everyday demands on us. Take the five-minute breather or the walk around the block. It will help you stave off the flood of stress.
Cheers to better living -