Friday, December 7, 2012

Under Pressure: How Our Bodies Respond to Stress and Tips to Fight Back

Under Pressure: How Our Bodies Respond to Stress and Tips on How to Fight Back

It is that time of year again. The holiday season is right around the corner, but it is hard to see the lights when our vision is clouded over by homework, final projects, and exams. Can’t it just all be done already!

Stress! You all know what I am talking about— that queezy feelings in your stomach, tight muscles, soar neck, or eye twitching sensation that comes over us when we are lacking on sleep, energy, and TIME!  We always think of stress as an emotion, when really it is something that affects our whole bodies.

I wanted to better understand what was happening in my body when stress started to take over and what I could do to make it more easy to manage.  So I decided to do some research and here is what I found.

The Nuts and Bolts of Stress

From my investigations I learned that stress is actually an evolutionary response that is there to help us respond and deal with challenges or changes in our environment. In this way, stress isn’t always a bad thing. It can give us the boost we need to get things done or to conserve our energy when times are tough. However, in the long term stress can start to lose its positive effects and really ware us out. So what exactly is happening in our bodies when we are under stress.

The Bodies Response to Stress
Whether it be a fight with your parents, an overwhelming amount of homework, or a recent break up, our brain is quick to sound the alarm, “ALERT, ALERT! We need back up!”  When we experience stress, signals are sent from our brain out into our bodies, activating our sympathetic nervous system and releasing chemicals called adrenaline and cortisol. When this happens, our body goes into action mode— our heart rate skyrockets, our blood pressure rises, we begin to sweat, our breath quickens, our muscles tighten, and all of our senses are on full alert. These changes put us into, what they call, “fight or flight” mode, so that we can react quickly and efficiently to difficult or dangerous situations.  This is called a stress response. When this stress response is triggered occasionally and we know how to use it to our advantage, it can be really helpful, but if these feelings of stress continue over a longer period of time, our bodies start to show some significant signs of stress overload.

Watch for the following symptoms or warning signs that stress is taking over:
ü       Memory and concentration problems
ü       Impulsiveness or irrational thinking
ü       Constant worry or anxiety
ü       Feeling irritable, moody, or wanting to lash out at others
ü       Aches and pains, muscle soreness, or overall fatigue
ü       Stomach aches, headaches, or dizziness
ü       Changes in eating or sleeping habits

Fighting Back
Being stressed out is not fun, and it can take a huge toll on our bodies, our minds, and our emotions. If stress has started to change from helping you to hurting you and you are noticing some of the warning signs above that you are on stress overload, here are some things that might help you get back on track:
  • Sleep- Even if you feel like you don’t have time or need to finish studying for a test the next day, just do it. Sleep deprivation will take away both your ability to concentrate and your ability to retain information, not to mention it will probably not make you a fun person to be around. So cut you losses and get a good nights sleep- 8 hours if possible.
  • Relax. Duh! That one is pretty obvious, but also something that we often take for granted. Take a second to just breathe, go on a walk, take a break, do whatever you need to do to unwind.  
  • Pay Attention to your Body. Are your muscles tense? Is your back soar? Are your eyes getting out of focus or droopy? If you aren’t sure squeeze your muscles together and then relax them. This is called progressive relaxation. Also, take a few deep breaths and let your body relax.
  • Reassess you priorities. It is really easy to over schedule yourself. Too much to do and too little time. Well, if that is the case then it might be time to reassess your priorities and put yourself and your needs higher up on your priority list. Because even if all of those other things seem fun and important, if you don’t have the energy to really do them the way you want to, then they probably won’t be enjoyable or successful. Fitting less things in and giving yourself time is really important.
  • Let go of the little things. Things don’t always go our way and we can’t always control things. We make mistakes and we are not perfect. Don’t let this stuff get to you. Instead, accept what you can and can’t do, give yourself a break or a hug, and enjoy your life.

We can’t avoid stress. It will happen. You have the power to see it and change it before it builds up to the point where it starts to hurt you. Listen to what your body is telling you, take care of yourself and show yourself some love. You deserve it.  

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