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Feeling Stressed? What exactly is Stress, and how does it impact us?

Updated: Jan 11, 2023

“I’m SO Stressed!” – We’re all heard a friend or family member declare this, maybe we’ve even been the one to proclaim it ourselves. Or perhaps we think it to ourselves, feeling stress bubbling under the surface, but not wanting to acknowledge it to ourselves because we think "I should be able to cope with this".

Read on to learn more about what stress is, and what you can do about ongoing stress

Stress is a normal part of everyday life and can be triggered for many different reasons – family, work, finances, even “enjoyable” things such as Christmas or moving house can cause stress. Stress is not avoidable in modern life, so learning how to manage it and prevent it from impacting on our day to day life is an important part in maintaining our physical and mental health and wellbeing.

Understanding what stress is, the effects it has on our body and what we can do about it, is an effective way to begin to get it under control.

Evolutionary Purpose of Stress

Stress has its place. The stress response in the body is an evolutionary response to danger. The body developed this response thousands of years ago as a way to protect us in a truly dangerous situation – to keep us alive and to continue the species. This body – based stress response is also known as the fight-or-flight response.

When the stress response gets activated in relation to a threat or danger, the body quickly responds in an automatic way without much thought on our part.

Let’s say that someone is coming towards you in a threatening or dangerous way.

You basically have two options:

Option A: Run away as fast as you can (Flight)

Option B: Stay and fight for your life (Fight)

Now, in either situation, the body automatically responds to help you either fight or flight (run away). The natural body chemicals cortisol and adrenaline are released, and begin to pump around the body. Your heart rate and blood pressure increases, sending blood flow to your major muscle groups (glutes, legs, arms). You may start breathing quickly, which is the body’s way of increasing oxygen. Your muscles begin to tighten, and you may feel extra strain in your chest. These responses are in place so you have the energy and strength to either stay and fight or run away to save your life.

In a moment of true danger, this is great and protective. However, in modern day life, this response gets activated not only in dangerous situations, but in everyday life situations as well.

The Stress Response in Modern Life

Not only does the stress response get activated in dangerous situations, but it is activated in a variety of everyday situations. Once you label something

as stressful, a “threat” because its stressful, or you fear something (even if it’s not dangerous), the body will respond as if it is a true danger or threat. For example, in social settings, when worrying about money, at work or school or when visiting the doctor. In these modern life situations, the stress response is not so helpful or protective. In fact, it can feel rather UNhelpful and can make these situations unbearable.

As you can imagine, muscle tension, your heart pumping, shallow breathing, and being on high alert are not exactly conducive to good attention and concentration, productivity, and feeling calm and relaxed.

Stress on the body from what perceived threats in modern

life can have a major impact on our functioning. Trouble sleeping, headaches, irritability with others, digestive issues, inability to concentrate and low productivity to name but a few.

But Wait - Moderate Stress can Actually be Good for Us

Some stress is actually good for us. If we had no stress at all, we wouldn’t really be motivated to succeed, accomplish our goals, or to keep improving in our lives.

Too high of stress can negatively interfere in the ways mentioned above, by causing discomfort, distracting us, causing chronic headaches or pain, and zapping energy and focus.

A moderate amount of stress is the winning level to motivate us to do what we need to do, pursue our goals, and best the best versions of ourselves.

This is known as the Yerkes-Dodson-Law. This is a u-shaped graph that shows the relationship between stress and performance as mentioned above.

So, some stress is a good thing. It increases motivation, energy, and focus and helps us to reach our true potential. Therefore, a goal of stress management and stress reduction is not to completely eliminate stress, but rather to keep it at a moderate level so we are productive without the negative effects of too high stress. We also aim to work on our “foundations” of wellbeing, such as diet, exercise and sleep, so that when things DO get rocky (which they will!) you have a strong baseline there to support you.

Finding this sweet spot between moderate stress and overwhelming stress can be tricky, but don’t worry, we can explore this together.

Manage Your Stress and Make it Work for You

Understanding the relationship between stress and productivity is a major key in mastering stress and making it work for you.

Understand when stress becomes a problem, such as when it's interfering with your sleep, causing irritability, or causing uncomfortable physical symptoms like headaches, stomach aches, and high muscle tension. When you notice these things, it means stress is too high and no longer working for you. Becoming aware of our “stress signals” is the number one step in management of it.

Managing our stress is as unique and individual as each of us are – what works for one may not work for someone else.

Through therapy, you will learn a variety of tools to make stress work for you and take charge of your life. This allows you to manage stress instead of stress managing you!

Ready to talk through your stress, learn more about your Stress Signals, and find out how to manage it? Contact me now via the “Contact” section of my website.

Go Well, Take Care.


Health Psychologist

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