Stress is a biological process. In our wild-man days it provided us with an evolutionary advantage and is ultimately geared towards survival. Life was a tad different back then – with predators lurking out of sight, it was often necessary to engage the ‘fight or flight’ response to flee from the slavering jaws of a hungry beast, perhaps even wrestling it to keep from becoming a delicious dinner.
In our modern world, you don’t need to worry about becoming dinner, but rather about earning enough to consistently provide dinner, or keeping the roof over your head. You have work stress, traffic stress, personal stress – an absolute abundance of stress to contend with. However your ancient primitive “monkey brain’, the amygdala, perceives your stress as a life-threatening situation, and still thinks the best way to deal with this stress is by initiating that fight or flight response. Its reaction to your very often mentally induced stress is to hit the emergency button and “mobilize the forces” to deal with the crisis.
So what happens when that emergency button is hit? It’s a two phase emergency operation. Phase 1 is to fire up the engine by injecting it with some adrenaline. This kicks it into overdrive, ensuring that you are super strong and super fast so that you can either flee from or fight that threat, which is great when you have a lion charging you, but not very practical when heavy traffic is the cause of your stress. You become hyper vigilant, Your pupils dilate (all the better to see you with), your breathing rate increases, your memory recall increases, so does your heart rate, your blood pressure and your blood sugar levels, and you become super strong – in short, you become superhuman.
Why is this massive biological emergency response necessary? Well – if you are to run fast or fight with super strength, you need to power your muscles. Your increased breathing helps provide more oxygen for your muscles, your increased heart rate and blood pressure help pump that well oxygenated blood around your body more effectively. That blood needs to be directed away from other areas of your body to your muscles to support them as they are preparing for mortal combat. You also need to fuel those muscles – so your liver breaks down glycogen to produce glucose to use for energy. Furthermore, your blood prepares itself to clot in the event that you are injured during the fight for your life.
Sounds great! You are primed to run fast or fight hard, yet there you are, sitting behind the wheel, stuck in traffic and late for a very important meeting. There is nowhere to run, and no lion to fight. Think about it - what happens to all the glucose in your blood, meant to fuel your muscles in the wild dash for safety but instead the only muscle movement is the impatient tapping of your fingers on the steering wheel…. Did you just hear diabetes knocking on the door?
In the event that the lion got trampled by a rhinoceros in mid charge and you managed to magically levitate yourself up into a tree with one powerful leap using those adrenaline fueled muscles, the threat would have passed. Your muscles would have used up the glucose, and things would have returned to normal. But in the event that the lion escaped the trampling, and is now stalking you, Phase II needs to be initiated. Cortisol is now released into your body to sustain your super state for a longer period – as it wouldn’t do to fall asleep or collapse now – it might be a couple of hours before you are safe again.
Back in the modern world, your body’s engine is running hot. It’s revving high, but has nowhere to go. To make things worse – the 'threat' never passes – because the next stress appears when you walk into the office to face your very unhappy boss. That evening you get home and end up having a fight with your spouse, all the while you have that gnawing worry about your finances ruminating in your mind the whole time…
Welcome to the world of chronic stress, which is perceived by your monkey brain as you being under constant threat. In its sweet desire to help you survive and stay alive it makes sure that Phase II is always activated to maintain your super state. In modern day life – this translates to your body being in a hyped up state, running hot all the time with nothing cooling down the engine. Eventually that engine is going to burn out.
The constant release of glucose, the constantly elevated blood pressure and heart rate, the blood being prepared to clot – all of this results in lifestyle diseases like diabetes, stroke and heart attack. It results in road rage, anger impatience. It results in anxiety, panic and feeling overwhelmed. It results in damaged and weakened arterial walls. It disturbs your sleep (how can you sleep when you are being stalked by something that wants to eat you?) and plays havoc with your appetite.
Once your engine overheats and burns out, you find yourself suffering dreadful fatigue, depression and a host of other health conditions. You have panic attacks. Your thinking is compromised. You feel unable, overwhelmed and paralysed. You suffer from anxiety. You have a stroke. Or a heart attack. You have to take blood pressure medications and blood thinners. You gain weight. You stop enjoying life. You start dying. Stress is killing you.
What is the solution?
You need to hit the off switch.
You need to hit the off switch often, every day.
You need to constantly cool your engine and reduce the revs. You cannot escape stress – it’s a fact of modern day living. But you can learn how to manage it effectively from a mental and physical perspective.
If you want to live well, feel good and be happy then stress management is not optional, its essential. You can learn to understand stress, where and how it is generated, and how to hit the off switch at a Stress and Anxiety workshop. You need this. We all do. Learn how to Live Better.