Everybody experiences some tension or stress from time to time. For example tension for a deadline at work, for your wedding, to catch your train in time or to go to a party where you don’t know anybody. You can feel this tension in your head, your mind and your body. Your heart starts to race, you get a dry throat, a rushed feeling or butterflies in your stomach. This tension is understandable: your body prepares itself for a reaction. However, to understand what tension does to you, it is important to know what it is.
Tension or stress is a physical reaction to a possible threatening situation. Whether you experience something as stressful, depends on how you assess and deal with the situation. What’s stressful for you, can be the opposite for somebody else.
Origin and function of stress
When you are in a situation that is exciting, two systems are activated in the brain and body. The first system is being activated by the hormone adrenaline and activates your body so it is ready to react. This is known as the ‘fight- fright- or flight reaction’. This system is set in a way that it rather reacts too much than too little, because reacting 10 times too much, is evolutionary better than reacting once too little. Back in the days this could lead to dangerous situations with a predator. Due to the production of adrenaline, the second system is being activated: the adrenal glands (attached to your kidneys) produce cortisol, also known as the stress hormone. This hormone increases the blood sugar levels and the boosts the metabolism, so there is more energy available in the body to deal with stress and react optimally.
Stress is merely a natural and healthy reaction of the body, because it makes sure you can react properly in an emergency situation. Nowadays this stress reaction does not only occur as a reaction to physical stress, but also to psychological stress. This stress usually lasts somewhat longer. Short term and healthy stress helps you to achieve things, because it makes you alert, concentrated and efficient. The body recovers quickly from this type of stress.
When your body is unable to recover because a new stressful situation occurs, the amounts of adrenaline and cortisol remain at high levels. If the stress continues to persists, the hormone levels rise even more, which is unhealthy. When stress is persisting or severe, your body needs more time to recover from it. If you do not give your body this time, the stress accumulates. This can lead to several complaints. These can be physical complaints, like high blood pressure, tiredness, headache, neck- and back pains and insomnia, or psychological complaints like irritability, depressive feelings, problems with concentration or making decisions. Also unhealthy behavior can arise, like eating too much, smoking or drinking alcohol. Consider these signals as warnings: these are precursors of burnout!
So, is stress always bad?
The answer is… no, stress is not always unhealthy. A short term stress reaction of the body is very healthy, but when your body suffers from longer periods of stress, it can go wrong.
When should you intervene?
On this article you can find a list of signals that can indicate short term or long term stress. Do you recognise more of these mentioned complaints? Than it is possible that you experience too much chronic stress and it is important to intervene. Talk about it with your social network or your colleagues or employer, eat healthy and pay attention that you get enough sleep, exercise and rest. We advise you to look for activities that you find calming or receive energy from (something creative, walking, reading, etc.) and try doing this more often. You can find some more tips here. Adapting your lifestyle and paying attention to healthy and calming behavior is an important base for the “recovery” of your complaints. The NiceDay app can help you with finding this balance by planning activities, registering your feelings and setting notifications.
Do these signals or complaints last longer? Consult your general practitioner. He or she can evaluate the situation with you and will help you finding the right help.
“You can do anything, but not everything”
Try writing down your thoughts and feelings in the ‘Feeling Registration’ to get insight in what goes on in your mind and body. Plan a relaxing activity in your ‘Daily Planner’ and reflect on what doing this activity brought you.