Wednesday, 1 December 2021

What causes stress?

Stress is something that most of us are familiar with but while we may know how it feels to be stressed, we may not know why we get stressed.

When we talk about stress we are really referring to the emotional and physical reactions that take place in our body when we feel under pressure or threatened in some way. 

There are a whole host of reasons why somebody may feel stressed. We may feel threatened physically or we may experience stress as a result of anxious thoughts and worries. The first step to managing stress is understanding what is causing it. 

There are two main kinds of stress: internal and external stress 

Internal stress

Internal stress comes about due to our own internal thought processes. We may worry about things that we can't control, impose unrealistic expectations on ourselves, or have low self-esteem and treat ourselves unkindly. All of these things create unhelpful thoughts that can lead to internal stress.

External stress

External stress comes from the world around us rather than our own minds and can be caused by things like noise, relationship issues, money problems, life transitions, pressure from work or family, problems with neighbours, etc. 

The stress mechanism

Of course, not all stress is bad and although stress gets a bad press, we actually sometimes need a bit of stress to protect us from harm. Stress brings about rapid physical changes, which help us to deal with an imminent threat:

  • Our vision sharpens
  • Our body fluids are diverted to our bloodstream
  • Our airways widen to allow more oxygen into our lungs
  • Our heart pumps harder to send oxygen and energy to our muscles
  • Our liver releases glucose into our body to energise our muscles
  • Our digestion slows down or stops to enable more blood to be diverted to our muscles
  • We sweat to help cool our working muscles and blood from our skin is diverted to our muscles.
  • Our muscles tense to enable us to react faster and we release calcium into tense muscles.

This process, known as the 'fight or flight' response, was really helpful for protecting our ancestors from wild animals but it is not quite so helpful in modern day life as it can trigger due to perceived threats. If this happens often, our bodies don't have time to flush out the stress hormones that allow all of the above amazing changes to take place. This can lead to longer term physical and mental health problems, so it's important to find ways to take a break from stress. 

Join us on Twitter tomorrow when we'll be looking at common symptoms of stress. #fourweeksofwellbeing

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