Stress, what is it, and how do we beat it?
Well, in physics, stress is simple. It’s a body’s internal reaction to an external force. Okay, it’s really not at all simple, but the definition gives insight into the psychological definition. Why? Because it’s pretty much the same.
Stress is our body’s reaction (physical and psychological) to an external (psychological) force.
There is nothing inherently wrong in stress, it’s a survival response. The presence of danger (stress) triggers our “fight or flight” response. Adrenaline is released into our blodstream to heighten awareness and increase reaction time, metabolism, heart and breathing rates, i.e. we go into survival mode.
Along with adrenaline, our bodies release cortisol. As with stress, cortisol is a good and necessary thing; it’s involved in metabolic activities (like carbohydrate uptake) which are also associated with fight of flight. Unfortunately, at elevated levels over long periods of time it is a very bad thing, and is so closely tied to stress we call it the stress hormone.
Heightened cortisol levels are linked to a laundry list of badness;
- anxiety issues
- weight fluctuations (gain or loss)
- heart disease
- weakened immune systems
- poor sleep, and more.
What’s more, many of those things are stressors themselves, creating a negative feedback loop, a vicious cycle. Stress begets stress.
The good news is that there are many things which reduce stress; socialising, meditation, vigorous exercise, getting more sleep, dietary changes, prayer, and breathing exercises among them.
Just for fun, let’s randomly pull a few out of there; socialising, vigorous exercise, meditation and breathing exercises. That sounds exactly like…yoga. Which can also lead to improved diet, but that’s a topic for another day.
Exercise and meditation are two of the great cortisol balancing activities, and you can do them both at the same time. One of the slogans of Bikram Yoga is “It’s a 90 minute, moving meditation.”
From personal experience, I have found hard exercise and meditation also lead to better sleep, which leads to higher energy levels, which leads to more exercise, meditation and better sleep. In other words, a positive feedback loop, a virtuous cycle. Destressing begets destressing.
We all know we need to destress our lives. We say:
- I need to relax
- I need to get out more
- I need to get away
- I never see my friends
- I work too hard
- I’ve gotta get some exercise
- I’m tired, I need to get more sleep
The thing is, while we say these things, while we know what we need to do, we don’t do it. Well, no one can make you do any of it. But if you can commit to yourself to reduce your stress you’ll get better; physically, emotionally and at life in general. I certainly did.
Cross posted at Medium.com