Most people encounter stressful situations. They all come in varying degrees, but our bodies handle them just the same.
Some may experience stress from a big presentation at work. For others, it could be more long-term, like persistently thinking about losing a job. At the same time, others get stressed about a traffic jam.
It may seem strange, but a person stressed about a traffic jam or work deadline will have the same feelings as someone whose life is in literal immediate danger.
Both will experience a pounding heart and faster breathing, tense muscles and beads of sweat. It’s the body activating the “fight or flight” response, something evolved in humans to allow them to react quickly – often without even realizing it – in life-threatening situations.
This is a great thing. However, stressors are unlikely to be life-threatening for many these days. A presentation at work or traffic jam certainly are not life-threatening.
Eliciting a stress response too frequently can lead to problems. It can also become very difficult to shut off, turning on for almost anything.
This situation, called chronic stress, can take a toll on the mind and body. It is associated with high blood pressure, the formation of artery-clogging deposits, and causes brain changes that can lead to anxiety, depression, and addiction. It may also contribute to obesity.
Stress-related physiological changes, like the rush of cortisol, epinephrine, and adrenaline, happen so quickly that it’s hard to become aware of them at all, even causing people to act before they think.
Persistent surges in epinephrine can damage blood vessels and arteries. Elevated cortisol can contribute to the buildup of fat and weight.
So, how can you turn it off so your body reacts as it should to non-life-threatening situations? Here are a few things to try:
Relaxation Response: When you feel anxious or stressed, try deep abdominal breathing, focussing on a soothing word, visualization of tranquil scenes, yoga, or tai chi.
Physical Activity: Activity may help in a few ways. Going for a brisk walk shortly after a stressful situation can help deepen breathing and relieve muscle tension. Movement therapies like yoga, tai-chi, and qi dong can help with deep breathing and mental focus to induce calm.
Social Supports: Close relationships are also associated with stress relief.