Have you ever experienced stress? Or, maybe a better question is, what has been your experience with stress?
Stress is defined as a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances. This definition is good and all, but I think it misses a big component and leaves some questions unanswered. Questions like:
- How come something that used to NOT be stressful is all of a sudden very stressful?
- Why do my stressors change based on my life circumstances?
- What is stressful to some, isn’t stressful to others (i.e. public speaking.)
- Why does stress can have such an impact on my physical well-being?
Here is my revised definition of stress.
“Stress is a state of mental, emotional, or physical strain, tension, or weakness resulting from perceived experiences within our environment.” –Dr. Bryan
This definition addresses a couple of different questions. First, stress can be, or can be felt as, a physical sensation within our body that may or may not negatively impact our health. Stress produces an array of biochemical reactions within our body so it makes sense that it can have an immediate or long-term effect on our physical health.
Secondly, stress is a response to how each person perceives a circumstance or experience. Every experience in life is an opportunity to choose our thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors. If we choose or believe that something is stressful, or that harm will come to us (when it actually will not) then guess what? It’s going to stress us out.
Truth About Stress
Here is the truth about stress…stress is inevitable and a necessary part of life.
Without stress, none of us would be here right now. From the birthing process, being exposed to germs, falling down, learning algebra, or facing fears. Stress forces us to grow and transcend our current levels of thinking and awareness to evolve on a physical, mental, and emotional level…if we choose to let it.
Secondly, the stress response is a normal and natural pre-programmed response in our bodies to keep us safe and alive.
Stress signals our nervous system (our perception system) to begin producing chemicals in the form of cortisol, adrenaline, and noradrenaline, just to name a few.
These chemicals may lead to certain physiological changes in the body including; raising blood pressure, diverting blood away from our internal organs (including our brain) and to our muscles, and increasing blood sugar levels. All of these are perfect responses if we need the energy to run from a hungry bear… but most of us don’t need to worry about being a bear’s next meal.
In today’s world, we don’t need the stimulus of a hungry bear to begin the cascade of stress hormones in the body, putting us in a constant state of fight-or-flight. New and different types of stress cause the same response in our bodies. Remember, stress is based on our own life experiences and perceptions. So whatever we happen to perceive as stressful, will cause the same cascade of chemical reactions within our bodies.
Stress is not something that happens to us but rather how our bodies respond to perceived stressful circumstances.
Again, this response is a natural, pre-programmed process. The thing is, we don’t want our blood pressure to be through the roof while we are sitting at our desks responding to emails. Or, blood to be diverted from our brains while we are taking a test or giving a speech. Or, for our heart rate to increase as we are trying to go to sleep.
This is why stress tends to have a negative impact on our overall health. Managing stress in our lives comes down to one word, adaptability. Our body’s ability to maintain balance and equilibrium in response to various stressors is our ability to adapt and maintain homeostasis.
Adapting to Stress
In truth, the stress response should only last about 90 seconds in the body. Meaning once our nervous system has responded to and assessed, any threats, our internal biochemistry (hormones, enzymes) and physiology (blood pressure, blood sugar levels, heart rate, etc.) should return to a normal resting level.
We see this perfectly in nature. A gazelle is being chased one minute by a lion and the next they are calmly eating grass without any worry of what could happen tomorrow. Their bodies adapted to the stress in the environment and then returned to a state of balance once the stressor was gone.
Adapting to stress not only can help improve our current and future health but can also help us to have the life we envision and desire. Our nervous system is exactly how we do that.
We take in our environment through our 5 senses (touch, taste, hear, smell, sight). Our nervous system processes this information and our body responds appropriately. If our nervous system is functioning and communicating at its best, then we’re functioning and adapting at our best.
Here’s the catch, unprocessed stress from days, weeks, and even years before gets locked in our nervous system, reproducing the same chemical response as if that stressful experience were happening right now at the moment.
Our nervous system’s ability to function at its highest level becomes altered. In time this limits our capacity to take on and adapt to new stress. What results, is a vicious cycle of more stressful experiences and a smaller capacity to handle and adapt to them.
The good news is, your nervous system holds the key to better adaptation to stress and better health. Your body is a self-healing, self-regulating, and self-maintaining organism. You are designed to THRIVE, not just survive and all of this is coordinated through the function of your nervous system.
Adapting to stress, being your greatest self-expression, and living life to the fullest is not something reserved for just a select few. This is available to each and every one of us because we are all created in the same way to be able to experience the same things in life. What is possible for one, is possible for all!
If we are experiencing anything less than what we desire for our life and our health, we must look to the stress in our lives and how we are handling it. This will give us a better understanding of how our nervous system is functioning and where we need to focus our attention.
I’ve created an assessment to help you determine and see your current stress levels and insight into how well your nervous system is functioning based on how well you adapt to that stress.
With this information, you can begin to take the necessary steps to better manage stress and reach optimal health!
Enjoy the assessment here 👉Stress Assessment!