Stress has always been a part of human life. Fact. But in today’s society, stress seems to be rampant and unavoidable.
Work related stress. Mortgages. Relationship dramas. Personal pressures and expectations. Increasing cost of living. Climate Change... Just being really, really, really busy.
It can be hard not to feel as though we are forced to live our lives constantly stressed out by one thing or another - or more likely many things all at once!
But maybe being stressed is good for us? You have probably heard someone say they work best when stressed by a looming deadline. Are they crazy? How about we try to understand stress a little better before jumping to any conclusions...
What exactly is stress?
Stress is your body’s way of responding to any kind of demand or threat. When you sense danger—whether it’s real or imagined—the body's defences kick into high gear in a rapid, automatic process known as the “fight-or-flight” reaction or the "stress response".
This response to threat floods your body with stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, courtesy of your central nervous system. These hormones prepare the body for action by creating physical changes like increased blood pressure, faster breathing and tighter muscles, resulting in faster reaction times and increased strength and stamina.
The stress response is basically the body’s way of protecting you - and when it works properly - it is fantastic. It helps you stay focused, energetic, and alert. In emergency situations, stress can quite literally save your life - providing you with the strength, reflexes and endurance you need to survive.
Stress can also help you rise to meet everyday challenges. That person we mentioned before who works well under pressure... yeah, they aren’t crazy. The stress response is what keeps you on your toes during a presentation at work, sharpens your concentration when you’re attempting to kick the game-winning goal, or drives you to cram for an exam when you'd much rather be watching Netflix.
But… but… isn’t stress supposed to be bad for us??
Well, yeah, too much stress is not good.
Beyond a certain point, stress stops being helpful… and can cause serious damage to your health, mood, productivity, relationships, and overall quality of life.
So when is stress bad for us?
Unfortunately, our nervous system isn’t very good at distinguishing between emotional and physical threats. Your body can react just as strongly to an argument with a loved one or a stressful meeting at work as it can to landing yourself in a lion’s den or facing a loaded gun. Your body simply can’t tell the difference!
And the real clincher? The more your stress response is activated, the easier it becomes to trigger, and the harder it becomes to shut off.
So, if you tend to get stressed out frequently - and let’s face it, many of us do - your body may actually be in a heightened state of stress most of the time.
And this is when stress can lead to serious health problems - digestive issues, weak immunity, increased risk of heart attack and stroke, faster aging, low sex drive - it can even rewire the brain so that you are constantly more vulnerable to anxiety, depression and other mental health problems.
And the scariest part? Stress can creep up on you slowly and easily. You get used to stress. It starts to feel familiar, normal even. You don’t notice how stressed you are, let alone how much it is affecting your life. You might even start thinking that you strive under constant stress… even as it takes a heavy toll on your body and mind.
That’s why it’s important to be aware of the warning signs of stress overload - feeling anxious, memory loss, frequent colds or flus, trouble sleeping, procrastination, alcohol or drug dependency, irritability or anger (the list goes on) - and have some proactive systems in place to deal with your stress.
OK… so how DO you best manage stress?
Although many of us would just like to simply avoid the aspects of our life that trigger stress - we can’t always choose the flight response! And we definitely don’t always want to have to use the fight response either… so here are some easy ways to help you manage your stress levels…
Talk to others!
In most people (you’re not a psychopath… are you?) - the simple act of talking face-to-face with another human triggers hormones that relieve stress. Even just a brief exchange of (kind/friendly/positive) words can help calm and soothe your nervous system. So make sure that you spend time with people who make you feel good and do not let your responsibilities (we ALL have them) keep you from having a social life!! If you don’t have any close relationships, or your relationships are the source of your stress, make it a priority to build stronger and more satisfying connections with other people. Alternatively, go and talk to a mental health professional! It will do wonders for stress and other health issues - but you won’t know until you try it!
Get physically active!
No surprises here - regular physical activity has been proven to lift your mood and serve as a distraction from worries, allowing you to break out of the cycle of negative thoughts that feed stress. Gentle, rhythmic exercises such as walking, running, swimming, and dancing are particularly effective, especially if you exercise mindfully (focusing your attention on the physical sensations you experience as you move). Although a useful tool for increasing fitness and burning calories, try to avoid too much high-intensity exercise when you are stressed, as it will only add to your body’s stress symptoms!
Quick but important side note - Too much exercise and even misguided motivations for exercising can also actually cause your body to mimic stress symptoms. What do these look like? Well they vary a lot from person to person, but generally speaking:
- You are doing too much exercise if instead of feeling like overall it adds energy to your week, you feel like your exercise routine drains you of energy; and
- Misguided motivations for exercise might include doing exercise because you hate your body, are scared of putting on weight, or even just doing exercise that you actually hate because you think it might be good for you! All of these can lead to the release of stress hormones and may cause more harm than good! Try and view exercise as a celebration of your body, rather than a hated chore or something you have to do - your body is an amazing machine… enjoy taking it for a spin!!
Might sound a little strange, but what you put in your mouth can seriously affect both your mood and your ability to cope with everything that life throws at you. Eating a diet full of processed food, refined carbohydrates, and sugary snacks can worsen symptoms of stress… whereas eating a diet based on fresh fruit and vegetables, high-quality protein, and omega-3 fatty acids, can help you better cope with life’s ups and downs. So pay attention to what you are putting into your body… your brain (and your waistline) will thank you!
Learn to relax :-)
Look, you can’t eliminate stress from your life, but you can have (at least some) control over how much it affects you. Relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation, and deep breathing activate the body’s relaxation response… which is exactly what it sounds like… a state of restfulness that is the polar opposite of the stress response. When practiced regularly, these activities can significantly reduce everyday stress levels, help stabilise emotional swings, and boost general feelings of positivity. Not sure where to start? Try a guided meditation app on your phone - it will literally take you through it step by step!
Get adequate sleep!
Being tired can increase stress by disrupting your normal cognitive function. At the same time, chronic stress can disrupt your healthy sleep patterns. Whether you’re having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep at night, there are plenty of ways to improve your sleep so you feel less stressed, more productive and better emotionally balanced. Want to know more? Check out these tips for getting a better night’s sleep.
Umm DadBods… that just sounds like a list of general ways to stay healthy…
Well… yeah! Pretty much.
It should come as no surprise that basic self-care is first and foremost when it comes to coping with the stresses of daily life. And if that was a surprise … sounds like you need some more DadBods knowledge!! Why don’t you try reading our blog on a great self-applied physical therapy called myofascial release? Or check out our mental health section… it’s guaranteed to give you a bit more to think about.
And what about your social health? Jump into our DadBods Private Group for opportunities to hang out with a bunch of legends!
Hope this article helped you! Try & keep those stress levels in check.