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Understanding Your Stress Response

Nov 16, 2021
Reading time 3 min.

The holidays are rapidly approaching, and it is important to manage stress for the holidays. Briefly, we will define stress, common signs of stress, triggers, and early warning signs.

Why is it important to discuss how to manage holiday stressors? When we manage stress in healthier ways, we experience better physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health.

What is stress? Stress is a state of mental tension that often arises when we experience problems in life, work, family, etc. It can create intense feelings of worry or anxiety. The brain is constantly evaluating whether we are safe or unsafe. Unfortunately, by experiencing chronic or prolonged exposure to stress, the body does not have the chance to rebalance itself. Then we begin to notice problems arising.

The responsible system for managing our stress responses is the autonomic nervous system (ANS) and has two parts. The sympathetic nervous system (SNS); acts like an accelerator on a car. Then there is the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS); acts as the brake. The autonomic nervous system regulates body processes, such as blood pressure and heart rate, and works without conscious effort. There are specific areas of the brain that are affected by stress and the release of stress hormones.

Two areas of the brain that are most affected by stress are the hippocampus and the amygdala. These areas link our memories and the strength of our emotional responses, respectively. The brain, as well as the gut, releases hormones in response to stress.

Several stress hormones include cortisol, hydrocortisone, and noradrenaline. Short-term, cortisol is beneficial for learning and memory. Long-term cortisol exposure leads to digestive disorders and damages the hippocampus. This results in cognitive and emotional impairment. A person becomes less resilient to even minor stressors. Hydrocortisone and noradrenaline negatively impact several areas of the brain. These impact memory and interfere with sleep and mood.

Common signs of stress are as follows:

  • Physical: increased heartbeat, rapid breathing, sweaty palms, headache/migraine, digestive problems, grinding teeth
  • Mental: worry about small things, difficulty concentrating, poor memory, forgetfulness, fearing the worst, anxious thoughts
  • Emotional: irritability, anger, restlessness, tearfulness, inability to relax, depression
  • Behavioral: avoidance of tasks, sleep difficulties, difficulty completing work, fidgeting, changes in eating, drinking, or smoking
  • Social: withdrawal from friends/family, seeking out others to be with, relationship changes

Triggers are events that elicit a response within the body and, if left unmanaged, can lead to chronic stress. Negative or positive events can also be a build-up of day-to-day stressors.

Common stress triggers:

  • Negative life events: financial problems or debt, divorce/break-up, physical illness, a victim of a crime, loss of trust/safety/control, legal problems
  • Positive life events: moving, getting married, changing employers/job position, beginning a new relationship, attending a family gathering/holiday events or parties, retirement
  • Day-to-day stressors: long commutes, transportation difficulties, noise at home/work, being bored, being alone, caring for your children/parents, living in an unsafe neighborhood

Early warning signs are often changes in the way a person thinks, feels, and behaves. They are present when stressors are beginning to become unmanageable. For some, these changes are so small they go unnoticed. For others, these changes may be more obvious.

Common early warning signs:
Mood shifts, increased irritability, anger outbursts, restlessness/unable to relax, depression

Shifts in energy, difficulty concentrating, racing thoughts, constant worry, anxiousness

Appetite changes, headaches, increased illnesses, digestive problems,

Changes in spending, difficulty sleeping, loss of interest in activities, avoiding tasks

Deepest blessings on your journey...

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