Every day you see and hear people talking about the negative effects of stress. However, stress can also be extremely beneficial. Imagine the strings on a guitar. To play at your best, the strings must have just the right amount of tension. Too little and you’re playing out of tune. Too much tension and they are going to snap. Stress is very much the same.
At the most basic level, stress is our response to a situation or event and how our body prepares itself for the challenges we face.
It all starts at the base of your brain with the hypothalamus, which sets off an alarm and sends a signal to your adrenal glands, located at the top of your kidneys. On receipt of this signal, your adrenal glands release a surge of stress hormones, including cortisol and adrenaline, causing your heart rate to increase, your blood pressure to elevate and boost your energy supplies. This is also known as your stress response.
When we encounter stress, the release of these stress hormones triggers a ‘flight or fight’ response. You can probably recall several situations where this response has occurred, and you may have even acted without giving your actions much thought. It is this reaction that helps us to respond to dangerous situations such as moving out of the way of oncoming vehicles.
When your body responds to stress it releases extra interleukins (chemicals) and provides a temporary boost of the immune system. There is also research that shows that some stress can help to fortify the immune system, for example by improving how well your heart works. One study looked at the effects of stress on individuals undergoing surgery and found that patients who experienced moderate levels of stress before the surgery were able to recover faster than patients who had low or high levels.
Research shows that low levels of stress boost productivity, increase concentration, temporarily boost memory and learning scores. It is believed that exercise, a physical as opposed to a psychological stressor, is key to boosting productivity and concentration.
Think about all the times that a deadline or pressure to meet a goal has motivated you to up your game and created a laser-like focus.
This feeling of ‘pressure’ can help you to push through situations that can be nerve-wracking like public speaking or intense physical challenges like running a marathon.
Learning how to deal with stressful situations can give you the skills, knowledge and perspective to make dealing with future situations easier.
A great example of this is the armed forces. They consistently and repeatedly expose individuals to stressful events, which develops skills of physical and psychological control, so when they face real-life combat situations, they are less likely to just shut down.
As you can see there is a myriad of benefits to stress. However, these benefits can only be realised when stress is at an optimum level. What that optimum level is, differs for each individual.
When stress becomes excessive, or it persists over a long period, rather than helping us this pressure can make us feel overwhelmed, out of control and unable to cope. Such excessive stress is often called chronic, or negative stress, and can cause both ill physical and mental health.
To successfully manage the effects of stress it is vital to:
If you would like to discuss we can help you increase your stress awareness and develop techniques to manage stress contact us.