Understanding stress

Stress isn’t just a modern phenomenon. It’s part of our evolutionary history, and the ability to survive periods of famine, warfare, and predators shaped natural selection. The stress response is an essential reaction that allowed us to react to an attack by a lion. When the brain senses danger, it triggers release of a cascade of hormones into the bloodstream, including cortisol and adrenaline that increase blood pressure, heart rate, and release free fatty acids and glucose from the liver.

This activation is designed to give enough energy to escape or defeat the stressor, better known as the ‘fight or flight response’.

Theoretically, this is a short-term response, after which stress hormones, sugars and cholesterol return to normal and the body and mind is at rest.

We now live in a more artificial environment than our ancestors, one dominated by desk jobs, convenience foods, blue light, and many other factors that put us into a state of ‘fight or flight’.

Delays, miscommunication, inconveniences are everyday factors that the mind perceives as stress and the body reacts as if we are being chased by that lion.

If stressful events become habitual, the body continues to secrete stress hormones and blood pressure remains elevated. You might feel irritable, experience poor concentration or insomnia. In a three-stage adaptation response to stress, this is known as the ‘resistance’ stage, in which the body adapts to living with a higher stress level. But if this stage continues for too long, it can lead to the ‘exhaustion’ stage, where chronic stress leads to burnout and illness.

Although most of us experience periods of stress at some point in our lives, we don’t always experience it in the same way. See if you recognise yourself in any of these ‘stress types’:

Who are you?

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