We all know what stress feels like, but do you know what it does to you?The fight or flight response goes hand-in-hand with a powerful hormonecocktail; norepinephrine and epinephrine, highercortisol and adrenaline, heart palpitations, sweating. Your body is gettingready to run.
As Cariss explained, stress in small doses can motivate and help withour goals or tasks and can even boost memory. So in order to keep the ‘goodstress’ in our lives, she says, we need to keep up with all the things weforget to do when the scales point toward ‘bad stress’, like sleeping well and drinkingenough water. When we are overwhelmed and the stress stays around for weeks ormonths it can lead to fatigue and anxiety; “With bad stress, sometimeswe can't see the wood for the trees – its impact is so present in our lives wedon't notice it.”
Neil Shah is the founder of International Wellbeing Insights and ChiefDe-Stressing Officer of TheStress Management Society. I ask him about the effects of prolongedstress and he tells me that “if you are constantly in a state of stress, after a while,you start to accept that as your normal state. It's not healthy. It's notsustainable. But it's what you become used to.”While stress isn’t always negative, if it’sconstant it becomes a mental and physical issue.Chronic stress can deplete our energy, create memory issues, cause chestpain, acne, IBS, depression and other issues.
“We feel that it's normal to have stress and pressure, whereas actually, you're supposed to go into stress when you're being attacked by a tiger”
Given how stress can make us feel, is it possible to be addicted to it? Whilestress isn’t exactly addictive, Shah explains, we have become desensitised toit: “We feel that it's normal to have stress and pressure, whereas actually,you're supposed to go into stress when you're being attacked by a tiger”.That’s when stress becomes damaging.
The best way Shah recommended is exercise, as an antidote to the flightor fight response. You can channel your stress by movement, as that will leadto happy hormones (aka endorphins), followed closely by mindfulness.Normally we stress when we focus on the past or the future. Re-focusing ourattention to the present, the ‘now’ can relax our minds and help us reclaim ourpower. I recommend reading The Power of Nowfor more on this idea.
On the opposite end of mindfulness Cariss mentioned the Dutch concept of‘niksen’, which means doing nothing. “Give yourself permission to do nothing.Instead of zoning in, you're zoning out. Find a space in your house, preferablywith a window, let go of all distractions, and just be. Start with five minutes,then 10, and work your way up; after you get back to your activitiesrefreshed.”
And most importantly, try and see if you can figure out when ‘badstress’ kicks in. Cariss says we should look out for issues with concentration,sleep and appetite, getting ill more often, headaches and irritability. Whenthis happens, it’s time to recalibrate.