What is stress?
Stress is difficult to define, but all of us can recognize when we are experiencing it. One way to understand stress is to see it as how you respond to negative life events, and to negative thoughts and emotions. Stress occurs when you feel that you are not equipped to deal with the demands of life.
Various chemicals and stress hormones, including cortisol and adrenaline, are involved in the complicated biological response to stress in our bodies. Cortisol is an essential hormone for life, maintaining healthy body function. But when we are under repeated long-term stress the cortisol balance goes wrong. It affects our blood sugar levels, our immune systems, even our memory.
Under stress-free circumstances cortisol levels are highest in the morning and lower at night. It helps you to get up and prepare for the day, then lower levels before you go to bed assist you to sleep. Under stress this normal flow of cortisol flattens, which can mean low levels in the morning and high levels at night. This affects sleep and other biological patterns, and can lead to health problems such as depression, anxiety, and headaches.
Stress can occur anywhere, but work can often be stressful. A famous study in England called the Whitehall study, changed the then conventional wisdom that higher level executives were more likely to experience stress at work. In fact, the opposite seems to be true, the lower your rank in hierarchy the more stress you experience. It seems that the less control you have over your stressors the more likely you are to feel stressed. How much control do you have over the pressure on you at work? It is not good to be in a place where you are unable to manage what is going on, and do not have the resources to deal with events at work.
Learning the techniques of mindfulness can help you to feel better. It is paying attention to the present moment and being aware. Awareness is direct intuitive knowing of what you are doing while you are doing it. Awareness of the present moment helps to reduce stress because attention is often hijacked by worries and concerns about issues in the future and from the past. Being mindful is training your attention to be in the present; it helps you to worry less about the future and to let go of your regrets about the past.
Other stress reducers:
- Good sleep hygiene, a regular routine, quiet dark bedroom.
- Using friends and social support, articulating how you feel to others.
- Exercise, get a pedometer and walk 10,000 steps a day. Start a regular exercise routine.
It is possible to change, and learn to see the world in a different less stress-inducing way. Sometimes it is necessary to have the help of therapy to accomplish this.