Let’s talk about how it’s healthy. Let’s talk about all the good things and the bad things that may be.
Today’s topic is an overview of stress and the stress response.
Disclaimer: I do not diagnose, treat, or prescribe for medical or mental illness with my online content. My views are my own and are not associated or representative of my employer(s). This blog is for educational purposes only and not medical advice.
Yes, you know you have that song stuck in your head, that's okay - I did that on purpose! My kids always tell me I have a song for everything. Then one day I noticed my mom did that. Further proof I am rapidly becoming my parents. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing, just a reminder that it's possible my kids will be like me some day and what I'm doing now matters.
Something that I know is REALLY important is stress and stress management. Chronic stress contributes to 75-90% of chronic diseases, so understanding stress and practicing good stress management is something I want to share with my children and with you.
What is Stress and Why is it Important?
A stress response is a normal, healthy mechanism for alerting us to danger. Way back in time, our ancestors depended on it for survival to create the "fight or flight" response in the settings of physical threats. In today's world, we have fewer physical threats but our brain's stress response hasn't evolved as quickly. This primitive part of the brain can't tell the difference between something that is a real threat and something that our brain just thinks is a threat. In other words, your body will create the same physical response whether you nearly miss being hit by a car crossing the street or you mispronounce a word in the middle of a big speech.
How Does the Stress Response Work?
The way this "fight or flight" response works starts in the brain and works throughout your whole body. Your brain first determines that something is possibly threatening or stressful and then uses a hormones alert process. The Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) sends out epinephrine (commonly known as adrenaline) and norepinephrine, and the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) Axis releases cortisol. The epinephrine, norepinephrine, cortisol and other stress hormones fuel the "fight or flight" response by releasing energy, improving oxygenation in the lungs, redirecting blood flow to vital organs, promoting immune function and mobilizing tissue repair molecules, among other responses. (Even your pupils dilate for better peripheral vision and your bladder relaxes so you don't have to worry about going to the bathroom while fighting for your life).
How Does the Stress Response Stop?
When the threat is over, the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS, the opposite of the SNS) takes over for recovery. Your heart rate slows, your breathing slows, blood flows again to the intestine so food digests, and the bladder contracts (and now you feel like you have to use the bathroom). The PNS is frequently called the "rest and digest" system.
So this is good news, right?
Stress is a normal, healthy response to a threat of danger. I's even important in nature. Do you remember the Biosphere 2 project - a multimillion dollar facility in Arizona? Inside a giant biosphere mimicking earth's environment were people, animals, crops, and trees. Giant trees. They grew quickly, and then quickly fell over. Without wind, the trees never adapted to stress, and could not withstand the normal wear and tear needed to survive. Trees need some stress to thrive. Stress will always be a part of our lives. Learning to engage with stress and manage it appropriately is an important life skill, necessary for us to thrive. You can learn to recognize your stressors and create mechanisms for a healthy response to stress.
Without the skills to manage stress in a healthy way, you can develop chronic stress. Burnout leads to chronic stress. Here's more about the dangers of chronic stress.
If you're suffering the chronic stress of burnout, I have a program for you! I work side by side with other moms and healthcare professionals to help calm the chaos in their minds and lives to overcome the overwhelm and conquer burnout.
My program gives you an organized, step-by-step process, an accountability partner (me!), and lots of self-care tips and self-learning activities to help you change those feelings of overwhelm and stress into joyful and intentional living – with more time, energy, success, confidence, mindfulness, and overall well-being.
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