With the forced lockdown, loss of a livelihood, fear of infection and being confined with family members many of you might be experiencing higher levels of stress than normal. How does that stress manifest in you? Do you turn to comfort food, run to the hills, reach for the bottle, or lift heavy weights?
How you respond as ‘a stressed person’ very much depends on your previous experience and responses to stress. In essence, our stress response has been learned, moulded and practiced over several years.
Stress is the body's response to any adjustment that necessitates a change or reaction. The body reacts to these changes with either a physical, mental, or emotional response and occasionally a combination of all three. There is no getting away from the fact that stress is a natural part of everyday life and fortunately we have evolved to both experience and react to both positive and negative stress. Our brain and autonomic nervous system have a hard-wired built-in stress response that causes physiological changes to allow the body to combat stressful situations. This stress response, also known as the "fight or flight response", was a key element in the evolution of humans, enabling them to escape danger and hunt for food.
Our environment has changed dramatically, but stress still plays a role in our life and for some of the time it can have a positive impact, keeping us alert, motivated, and ready to avoid danger. Psychologists refer to “good stress,” as “eustress”. If you have ever ridden a roller coaster, parachuted from a plane or been on a first date, you will have experienced this stress. Feelings of excitement, quickening pulse and hormones surging minus threat or fear!
There are many triggers for this good stress, and it keeps us feeling alive and excited about life. Stress, however, turns out to be negative when an individual or group must cope with continuous challenges devoid of respite or relaxation amid the period of stress. Consequently, prolonged activation of the stress response leads to physical, mental, and emotional deterioration.
To override stressors, we have learned to react and respond to stress in different ways, hence the habitual cravings for food, or the need to exercise. Therein, lies a solution, if we can learn to respond one way (habit), evidently, we can also learn how to re-programme our minds and practise an alternative way of behaving (new habit).
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