22 Mar Feeling stressed?
Stress is a modern epidemic. We live in a fast-paced culture that promotes being busy. It is a culture that promotes a disease, the “dis-ease” of being busy.
good stress and bad stress
Stress is an important survival function. Posed with real threat, stress is healthy for survival. Moderate stress improves the brains capacity to learn (1). Then there is negative stress that we somewhat inflict on ourselves. Stress somewhat out of proportion to what we are facing. This type of stress keeps our cortisol levels on a constant high.
Over time, stress and sustained high levels of glucocorticoids disrupts the maintenance and building of our brains and bodies (2). Over time, it can make us literally sick (3).
“Being the author of your own life”
why we react differently to situations
The roots to feeling stressed in situations, is not only about what is happening in this moment. The stress we perceive is also a reaction to memories in our conscious – or unconscious. Current experiences provoke these memories (4). This kind of self-inflicted stress we can practise becoming free from.
when we lose control
A lot of stress is difficult to control. Life changes can be very sudden. You lose your job, go through a divorce, become ill or face the death of a loved one. Losing control is a similar feeling to being put through abuse. Stress can begin to manifest as sleeping issues and different body aches. You feel low on energy and increasingly irritable.
“Significant stress causes both your internal and external world to spin out of control”
WHEN STRESS BECOMES TRAUMATIC
“Prolonged psychological stress is a recent invention”
What can we learn from animals?
Animals get stressed about actual physical crisis. We humans have evolved. Evolved to be smart enough to think about things. Being smart enough to think about things, we have also become “smart enough” to generate all sorts of stress – purely in our heads (6). Over time, our well-being takes a toll.
“You are a human being, not a human doing``
Pick your battles
Another hidden contributor to stress, is the pressure of “being good”. Feeling like we should be able to be in control of our lives. We do not let ourselves rest during time off. Instead we try to meet our high standard expectations, set by both ourselves and by those around us.
The brain is in constant change
The brain changes throughout our whole lives, not only in childhood. Neuroplasticity is the term that describes the brains capacity to create new neural connections and grow new neurons in response to experience (8).
Neuroplasticity has expanded our understanding of the healthy brain, the resilience in humans and our ability for change. Through using our thoughts, we can switch our genes on and off, altering our brain anatomy (9).
“Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished” - Lao Tzu
Whilst temporary, moderate stress activates neural growth and supports learning, continuous stress triggers the pumping of sodium into neurons (10). Eventually, this overwhelms our cell’s ability to transport it out again. Over time, the result is neuronal death, particularly found in the hippocampus. This causes memory deficits and depression (11).
Exposed to chronic stress, immunal functioning shuts down and the building of neural structures for learning stop (12).
“the mere act of making an effort to reduce stress can do wonders”
Managing daily stress
By acknowledging the stress, you become aware. This is an important first step for change. By acknowledging your situation, you learn to be more aware of how you are feeling. This means you have greater choice in how you can respond. Even a slight change in response to a stressful situation can have a great impact on how you feel.
“The greatest weapon against stress, is our ability to choose one thought over another” – William James
With an increased awareness about your situation, triggers and coping mechanisms, you can identify a few specific self-care strategies to put into practise to decrease stress (13). Physical activity and supportive relationships are important. Some like to actively work with their thinking patterns, others might prefer activities that take them away from thinking. What motivates you is individual.
“Challenging moments in our lives can become opportunities for self-understanding and connection with others” - Dan Siegel
Advise in the face of terrible news
2. Try to control the small things that you can control. Do not try to control uncontrollable things in the future or past. Stay in the present.
3. Seeking predictable, accurate information can be useful. Only seek necessary information, and check if the information is too soon or too late to be helpful for you.
4. Find a regular outlet for your frustrations. Figure out what works for you.
5. Find social support, not only mere socialising. Find the crowd or individuals who can give you an intimate, true friendship. (14)
“Finding emotional balance, we feel alive and at ease”
Facing what really bothers us, often has a destressing effect. Give close attention to your situation. Although the journey towards less stress can be difficult, regaining strength awaits as the reward.
1) 10) Cozolino, Louis. Why therapy works. W.W. Norton & Company Inc. 2016
2) 5) 13) Sapolsky, Robert M. Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers – The Acclaimed Guide to Stress, Stress-Related Diseases, and Coping. Henry Holt & Company. 2004 3rd Edition
4) Levine, Peter A. Waking the Tiger. North Atlantic Books. 1997
6) Siegel, D. Mindsight – The new science of personal transformation. Bantam Books. 2011
7) Staunton, D. Body psychotherapy. Routledge Taylor & Francis Group. 2009
8) Norman, D. The brain that changes itself. Scribe Publications. 2010
1) 9) Cozolino, Louis. The Neuroscience of Psychotherapy
14) Corey, Gerald. Theory and Practice of Counseling and Psychotherapy. Cengage learning. 2017