Understanding How Stress Affects You
Updated: Feb 13, 2021
For you to understand how to reduce stress you first need to know how to see it when it is there.
How does your body react to stress?
Hold your breath or breathe rapidly
Clench your first or muscles in your body
Begin to think negative thoughts or say things in absolutes (like “You always do this wrong” or “This never happens for me”)
Yell, scream or curse
Think for a moment. When something happens in your day, that isn’t a positive thing, how do you react? If, for example, you were getting ready to leave the house and you bump your cup of coffee off the table what happens in you
Think about taking a day to notice when these reactions show up. You might find that little things stress you out more than you know.
You see, there are small things that happen everyday that cause us stress that we don’t take the time to notice. We usually have to deal with that spilled cup of coffee to move on to being late to the appointment you have to get to and then finding a parking spot when you get there, not catching the elevator, having to wait in line to check in. We can have days where it is just one thing after another.
This everyday stress can very easily pile up on us if we don’t notice that we need to take a moment to stop and reset. Most of us don’t notice that need because we are too busy trying to keep up with life. So we have an underlying stress issue caused by everyday things that happen. Slowly increasing our stress burden one day at a time.
Then we have the big stressors like finding out your husband has cancer or losing your job. These are things that hit you hard. They create a tremendous amount of stress and aren’t resolved as easily as the everyday things that happen.
If you have a high load of everyday stress and then you are hit with a big stressor how does your body deal with it?
Your Nervous System
When you are presented with a stressful situation your body activates the sympathetic nervous system, also known as fight or flight. This is the way your body protects you. Originally humans had to be very aware of their surroundings so they could fight off large animals or run away quickly in situations that were life or death. The fight or flight mode by-passes the brain and instinctually does it’s thing. That’s why you pull your hand away from something hot so quickly.
We still have this fight or flight mode but don’t come across matters of life or death as often as earlier humans. We mostly don’t live in situations where there is a constant threat of a bear attacking us. So the bear has become other things in our life that cause us a stress response. Wether it is being cut off while driving or having a confrontation with someone at a store our fight or flight mode still jumps in.
You see, your body’s focus is self preservation. If it feels there is any threat it will do what it needs to in order to protect itself. When this mode is engaged the blood is pulled to the arms and legs to enable you to run faster if you needed to. Your pupils dilate, adrenaline is released, and your heart beats rapidly. It’s a perfect set up to fight or run away but the flaw is your nervous system doesn’t have a way to know if you need for that to happen.
The reaction you have to something happening to you doesn’t tell your body that you only spilled your coffee. It goes all in and sets up the process to keep you safe. So if it’s spilled coffee or being verbally attacked it’s the same physiological response. We don’t have any control over it.
Your body isn’t set up for all that stress so it becomes a chronic situation that can then lead to very serious health issues. (see the post before this one)
For most caregivers there is little time to stop and take notice of the stress load you are dealing with. We continue forward trying to make things work.
For you to make a change so that you can be a healthier caregiver you need to:
Understand how serious stress can be
Recognize what your stress response looks like
Be willing to make a few changes now before failing health forces you to do them later.
The very good news is that one of the best ways to reduce your stress load is to find ways to feel calm. The opposite side of your fight or flight mode is the parasympathetic nervous system also known as rest and digest. You have full control over this part of your nervous system. We’ll learn more about this next week.