It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it. Lou Holtz

Everyone reacts differently to stressful situations. And while there is no medical definition of stress, the accepted meaning of it is the condition when the demands of the situation require more biological, psychological and physical resources than available to a person.

In a stressful situation, our brains release hormones that change chemical composition in the body. These hormones result in a number of physiological changes. Tension in muscles, fast and shallow breathing, pounding heart are just some of the changes. This is known as a ‘Fight-or-Flight’ response.

Evolutionary, Fight-or-Flight response was there to increase survival chances of our ancestors in case of danger. They would either fight whatever threatens them or run away into safety. Unfortunately, our brains have not caught up with the fact that these days most situations that are not dangerous at all. We experience stress we when we face deadlines at work, personal difficulties, and home-schooling (yes, it is stressful).

Studies show that repeated exposure to stress have long-term effect on our physical and mental health. Over time, it may lead to cardiovascular and gastrointestinal problems (heart diseases, high blood pressure, IBS) as well as anxiety, depression, addiction, eating disorders, and, even, phobias.

However, stress is a normal part of life. We need stress in life because it helps us achieve our goals, it helps us to grow. Good stress supports cognition and boosts performance. It motivates and improves performance. It even feels exciting. So, not all stress is bad.

But usually, when we mention stress, we talk about negative type, distress. Often, in order to deal with this type of stress, we may develop unhelpful coping strategies like substance abuse, increased use of caffeine, sugary products etc. Unfortunately, these strategies may seem helpful at that particular moment but, in the long term, they are damaging to our mental health.

Fortunately, there are techniques that people can learn and use to improve the effects of stress.
  1. Exercising. The best way to get rid of stress is to move. Whether it is a walk in the woods, a yoga class or a Pilates session, exercising helps to release tension caused by Fight-or-Flight response. And if there are no opportunities to do this, even a short time spent moving indoors and outdoors daily (housework, gardening) can bring a massive change to our mental and physical wellbeing.
  2. Breathe. Deep breathing helps to relax our body and our mind. Meditation helps to bring our mind to the present and feel in control which makes it an excellent antidote to stress. A 10-minute practice a day will have a noticeable effect and will help us feel in control.
  3. Establishing a support system. A social support system is important. One thing we learned in the last few months is how it is important to have a social support system. Having someone to be able to talk to, to connect with is life enhancing. And when we suffer from long-term stress, this support system becomes the source of strength that helps us go through difficult times.
  4. Developing some good self-care habits. Self-care is necessary because when we take care of our psychological, physical and emotional wellbeing, we positively influence our mental health. Eating well, sleeping enough are just some examples of what we can do to feel less stressed. It is OK sometimes to binge on Netflix. eat ice-cream in vast quantities. Nothing is wrong with it. But what is also important is to do things that help us remain healthy, feel mentally and physically well.
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