Stress: The good, the bad and the ugly! 

“It’s not stress that kills us, it is our reaction to it” – Hans Selye

Now we’ve all been there, stuck in a state of worry, facing a situation we can’t easily seem to resolve. It doesn’t feel nice does it? No doubt it would take you only a matter of seconds to recall a list of episodes in which your heart rate quickened as you got caught up in a frenzy of stress. But what actually is stress, and is it actually as ugly as it first seems? For an event that is unfortunately common in most of our lives, the concept of stress is actually surprisingly difficult to define. Putting it as simply as possible, stress is deemed to be the body’s response to physical, mental or emotional pressure. However, even this broad description fails to truly capture the complexity of its experience. When we are faced with a situation, our brain’s must first take in the information and combine it with memories stored from previous events. Often on an unconscious level, our brains will then make a split-second decision as to whether the occasion is deemed ‘stressful’ or not. Over evolution, humans have developed a sophisticated neural circuit throughout the brain, responsible for coordinating an automatic stress-response. All this really means is that although the cause of our stress can vary, the brain regions responsible for how we go on to respond will usually be the same.  

 Whilst what happens in the brain may seem complicated, the typical symptoms we experience as a result will be all too familiar… Our brains trigger what’s become known as the ‘Fight or Flight’ response; mobilising our bodies to react in a manner that ultimately helps us to survive. Your heart rate will quicken, blood pressure will drop and your muscles become tight. This is your body detecting a threat in the environment and preparing you for whatever else comes your way. As you’ve probably already detected, despite the popular attitude that stress is unhealthy, its experience can actually be a useful tool for helping us to overcome difficulty. That’s not to say you should revel in stress and seek out opportunities to exhaust your mind, but rather to highlight that there is more than meets the eye with stress and things that we can actually be thankful for! Interestingly, this goes beyond just the body, extending to psychological benefits such as resilience and motivation. Research has shown that daily exposure to moderate stress can actually strengthen the cells in our brain, protecting it from stress-induced damage in the future. Many people are also spurred on by added pressure, with stress heightening their sense of awareness and fuelling any efforts they exert to succeed. In short, stress in itself is not actually ugly. It’s the response we show if it’s not controlled, managed or coped with, that can lead to the negative examples you probably have stored in your mind.

Thankfully, there’s been a large amount of research so our understanding of how to manage it is relatively strong. As with most things however, not all tips and tricks will work for everyone all the time; it’s about working out what strategies best suit you, the situation and the solution you are ultimately after. We are all armed with an automatic hard-wired response that can help us in difficult situations, but it’s up to us to consciously decide what techniques will help us through them. Left unchecked, stress can be our undoing, escalating the situation beyond our control! However, with the right coping strategies in place, stress can be that added bit of energy we need to overcome a challenge and a marker for how best to respond in the future...    

Everyone has stress in their lives, caused by a range of different factors. Having healthy coping strategies in place can help you keep this stress to a manageable level and respond in a more productive and beneficial way.

THE STRESS SERIES

To help you to implement more effective coping strategies into your day, we’ve compiled together several activities for you to try. By practicing these techniques next time you face stress in your lives, you will find yourself beginning to respond to challenging situations in a far more advantageous way.  

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Blog Author: Ben Oliver - Feb 8th 2021

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