Our lives are over-flowing with incessant demands tugging us in all different directions. Between family dynamics, work deadlines, social arrangements, kids activities, house errands, financial pressures, wedding planning – you name it – it’s playing on our minds. But whether they are causing us stress or not is a whole different ball game.
Stress is an automatic physiological response to a perceived danger. It kicks in as a survival mechanism in order to prepare our body to either fight as hard as we can or flee as fast as we can. As a result, our:
- Breathing rate increases to enhance oxygen to our brain;
- Heart rate and blood pressure increases to elevate blood flow to large muscle groups and vital organs;
- Fine motor skills diminish as the body’s focus is on large muscle groups;
- Non-essential functions (such as immune system and digestive system) shut down as it’s all hands on deck for survival;
- Muscles tense up to protect us from injury or pain;
- Blood sugar levels heighten to give us more energy;
- Perspiration increases to allow water to be secreted through the skin instead of the kidneys and bladder.
…And that’s just the tip of the iceberg! With over-use: our sleep is impacted, our memory gets impaired, our immunity is lowered, our digestion gets affected, our skin ages faster, our risk of cardiovascular disease increases, and the list goes on. Essentially, a response which is life-saving in combat becomes life-threatening in modern life. Unless we do something about it…
You see, our demands and external pressure inputs are only potential stressors. It is the cognitive processes which occur in our brain and the subsequent physiological response of our body that determine whether we actually experience these inputs as stress. With cognitive re-structuring, we can train our brains not to perceive these pressure inputs as threats, and with regular physiological de-excitation, we can train our bodies not to immediately default into fight-or-flight mode.
Since we can’t control our external pressure inputs, and past trends suggest that they are only multiplying and intensifying over time, it’s becoming more and more vital that we learn to manage these inputs swiftly and skillfully. Mindfulness training and meditation practice are obviously two effective methods which we highly endorse, but there are a myriad of other techniques and tactics which you can implement. The important thing is to start acting now so that you can live a happier and healthier life in the long run.