Even though most people don’t like it, stress is a normal part of our existence. If we have to give a presentation at work, before we go on a first date and even before we go on vacation many of us experience stress. In these situations, stress helps us: we become more alert and ready to take on a challenge.
But what happens exactly in our bodies at times of stress? Stress is always provoked by something, for example a situation or a thought. This creates a reaction in the amygdala, which in turn sends signals throughout our brain to start producing different hormones. The release of all these chemical messengers will help increase blood pressure and blood sugar and start preparation for (physical) action. The body prepares for fight-or-flight mode by increasing heartbeat and breathing, tension of muscles and therefor a boost of energy.
In most cases our tension will fall after we have completed our task (finished a presentation, had a good start to that first date and made our flight). The body calms down and we get released from our fight-or-flight mode. But in some cases we are not able to shake off the stress reaction. Perhaps we experienced too much stress for too long. Maybe we (or others) are asking too much of ourselves. Or we experience a lack of support from family and friends. For whatever reason, we can’t seem to relax anymore.
If your feelings of stress continue for too long, you can develop a wide range of complaints such as a lack of energy, sadness, anxiety, sleeping problems, difficulty concentrating and forgetfulness. Since stress is physical reaction, people who are constantly feeling stressed tend to get more headaches, pain in the neck and shoulders, stomach problems and are more at risk to get sick due to low resistance. Due to stress, people also tend to engage in unhealthy behaviors such as drinking, smoking and overeating.
Do you notice any of these signs of prolonged stress and are you unable to deal with it? It is advised to contact your general practitioner to discuss the possibilities for mental health support.