When thinking about stress, what typically comes to mind? A looming work deadline? 5 o’clock traffic? Bickering kids? The coronavirus? Although many different things can make us sweat, our bodies all tend to respond to stressors in a similar fashion: sweaty palms, heart rate spikes, and racing thoughts.
Interested in learning more? Love Wellness has you covered. Read on to discover all there is to know about your body’s stress response, including how it works and more.
What Is Stress?
Stress can be understood as any kind of change that causes physical, emotional, or psychological strain. It’s a normal human reaction that everyone experiences from time to time that can come as a result of a perceived threat, demand, or challenge. Some common triggers include:
- Chronic illness or injury
- Mental health problems
- Taking care of a sick family member
- Sudden loss of a loved one
- Moving to a new home
- Traumatic events (natural disaster, theft, physical assault, etc.)
- Relationship problems
- Pregnancy and becoming a parent
- Job loss
At the end of the day, everyone is different, and the stressful situations that trigger you could be totally different from what causes someone else stress. Regardless of what’s causing you tension, the important thing is managing this stress to prevent it from getting out of control. The effects of stress can be far and wide, impacting both your mental health and physical health.
What’s Chronic Stress?
When stress or a stressful event is especially extreme and lasts for a long period of time, it’s called chronic stress.
And the worst part? You can become so used to chronic stress that you don’t even realize it’s a problem. And when it’s not kept in check or managed, this stress can manifest into other problems.
Think you might be dealing with chronic, high stress levels? Here are some stress-related symptoms and physiological changes to watch for:
- Aches and pains
- Insomnia or sleepiness
- Low energy
- Unfocused or cloudy thinking
- A change in social behavior
- Emotional withdrawal
- Change in appetite
Chronic stress can interfere with productivity, relationships, and health. Although it can feel different for everyone, it’s often described as feeling “stuck.”
What Exactly Is the Stress Response?
After learning about chronic stress, you might be under the impression that stress is a bad thing, but the truth is that this isn’t always the case.
You see, the body’s stress response (aka fight-or-flight) is natural, surviving an important purpose that can even help you survive. It helps the body jump into action — like meeting a big deadline or avoiding oncoming traffic. During the fight-or-flight response, your body kicks into high blood pressure, with adrenaline pumping and blood flow moving into essential organs for survival, like your cardiovascular system.
Signs your body is in fight-or-flight mode include:
- Your heart rate and blood pressure increase
- You’re pale or have flushed skin
- Your pupils are dilated
- You’re on edge
- You feel fidgety, tense, or trapped
How Does the Stress Response Work?
When you encounter something that makes you nervous your hypothalamus (an itty-bitty region at the base of your noggin) sounds an alarm in your body. Through a combo of hormonal and nerve signals, this alarm prompts your adrenal glands to release a surge of hormones — including adrenaline (aka epinephrine) and cortisol (aka the “stress hormone”).
Adrenaline revs up your heart rate, kicks energy into high gear, and elevates your blood pressure, while cortisol increases sugars in the bloodstream, enhances the brain’s use of glucose, and boosts the availability of substances that repair tissues. In short, these hormones send help (nutrient-rich blood) to the areas that need it most in an SOS situation, such as your ticker, muscles, and other important organs.
Once the perceived threat is gone, the hypothalamus should give all systems the green light to go back to normal. But if the central nervous system (where your brain and hypothalamus live) fails to return back to normal — or if the trigger that’s causing you stress doesn’t disappear — the fight-or-flight response will continue. And as mentioned earlier, if it’s not curbed or managed, it can become chronic.
Any Tips To Better Manage Stress?
Here are some of our favorite tips and tricks to keep your cortisol levels in check:
Tip #1: Love Yourself
We all talk to ourselves. Sometimes we talk out loud, but more often than not, we do it in the privacy of our own heads. Self-talk can be positive or negative — the latter being what we have to watch out for. Why? Because negative self-talk increases stress. Fortunately, positive self-talk can help you find calm during stressful life events.
If you’re feeling especially stressed, whether it be acute stress or chronic stress, try practicing some self-love.
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Tip #2: Try Some Yoga
According to a number of studies, yoga is an excellent way to reduce stress and find calm. This is because it combines many popular stress management techniques, including learning how to clear the mind, control the breath, and relax the body.
New to yoga? Start with a routine intended for beginners. Trust us — it just might be more challenging than you think!
Tip #3: Sweat It Out
Exercise can increase your overall health and sense of well-being, which puts more pep in your step to combat stress effectively. Of course, working out provides the body with many short-term and long-term benefits, but one is that it pumps up your endorphins — those “feel-good” hormones. And when you’re feeling good, stress will naturally decrease. Exercise can also benefit your immune system, ward off risk factors for heart disease, and support a healthy endocrine system. Just don’t forget to drink plenty of water!
Pro Tip: Want to give your metabolism a boost to crush your next workout? Try Metabolove — a daily supplement that boosts energy and supports healthy weight management.*
The Final Word
And there you have it — everything you need to know about your body’s stress response. The important thing to keep in mind is that this response is a perfectly natural thing. When it becomes chronic, however, that’s when changes need to be made to get your cortisol levels in check. Fortunately, there are a number of things you can do to find calm and de-stress like taking #Mood Pills, getting active, and meditating.
That said, if you’ve tried a bunch of self-help strategies to no avail, don’t hesitate to reach out to your doctor. Effective help is available and, in most cases, right around the corner.
What Happens to Your Body During the Fight or Flight Response? | Cleveland Clinic
Chronic Stress > Fact Sheets | Yale Medicine
3 Tips to Manage Stress | American Heart Association