How Stress Works

Stress is a necessary fact of life for us humans. Indeed, it has helped us survive. But over time, the bodily response that was meant for life-threatening situations becomes triggered by simple daily hassles. How did this come to be?

A stressful event activates the lower, primitive part of our brain, which triggers our fight-or-flight response to prepare us to deal with an imminent danger. In response, chemicals and hormones are released throughout our body, facilitating our preparation to either fight for our life or flee very quickly. This biochemical reaction is not an isolated event; it causes reactions throughout the body, affecting our cardiovascular and immune systems.

While stress hormones remain elevated for a few hours after provocation, stress isn’t just a temporary nuisance. Stressful events and stressful days change our bodies and our brains. Like a snowball effect, a stressful situation makes us more sensitive to future stresses and less able to deal with them effectively. This magnifies over time, as the body becomes accustomed to pumping out stress hormones.

Even when minor, our mind-body connection doesn’t allow stress to slip away unnoticed. It hits us in the form of headaches, ulcers, and fatigue. When stress becomes routine, this takes a toll on our body. How can we escape this stress cycle?

For one, don’t wait until you are stressed out. Proactively managing stress is more effective than reactively coping. Learning about techniques to manage your stress level and discovering which work best for you, along with implementing and practicing them, can raise your tolerance for stressful events. Beware of quick fixes such as alcohol and food. Seemingly they reduce your stress in the moment, but they do not work over the long-term.

Eva Rykrsmith

Eva Rykrsmith is an organizational psychology practitioner. Her passion lies in bringing a psychology perspective to the business world, with the mission of creating a high-performance environment. Follow her @EvaRykr.

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