The World Health Organisation has proclaimed stress to be "the health epidemic of the 21st century.” Some stress is normal and optimal levels give us just the right degree of stimulation. It's the excessive and prolonged strain that causes problems.
Modern life exposes us to levels of heightened and persistent levels of stress brought on by managing information overload, keeping up with technology, sitting at the computer for long hours each day, financial pressures, health pressures and more. It's also activated by what's going on in our heads and the perceived pressures and our consistent long "to do lists".
An anticipated difficult conversation, impatience about finding a car spot, the line at the supermarket checkout is too long, the person in the car in front of you is driving too slow, the person at work hasn't done what you have set out for them and the list goes on... All these would be an inappropriate activation of the flight or fight response - stress and worry over things we shouldn't be triggered over so easily.
The flight or fight response is designed to help us survive a present moment threat in the environment. Take this as an example; You see a big dog (not on a leash) coming toward you late at night. Your body automatically goes into a fight or flight response. Activation of this response causes a turbo charge of energy. You start to sweat to keep yourself cool while you are exerting yourself to get away, your blood thickens and will clot faster in case of injury and the attention center in our brain lights up like a Christmas tree. It's a significant physiological response which occurs in the body in a response to help save our life from a threat.
Modern life can trigger the flight or fight response all too frequently and over a prolonged period of time which when activated in this manner creates physiological wear and tear that can have dire consequences to your mental and physical health.
Finding the equilibrium between rest and action, between letting go and going for it, is our contemporary challenge. In general, the mental and physical texture of modern life is too fast, dense and pressured, so we need to make a conscious effort to cultivate the opposite tones.
WHAT STRESS DOES TO YOUR BODY
Just to name a few - stress accelerates the ageing process, thinning of the bones, increases the hardening of arteries, effects us right down to our DNA, damages the prefrontal cortex which is responsible for planning, complex cognitive behaviour, personality expression and decision making. Stress shuts down the digestive system driving blood flow from the digestive system and skin to the larger muscle groups. Lessens deep sleep and increases waking up frequently during the night.
Stress is one of the main contributors to weight gain and difficulty in weight loss. It doesn't matter how well you eat or how much exercise you do, if cortisol is telling every cell in your body that food is scarce (as the body is in a state of prolonged flight-or-fight where your body perceives a crisis or famine), your metabolism slows down as a result and hence your clothes get tighter. Since cortisol is telling every cell in your body to store fat, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to decrease body fat until the cortisol issue is resolved. To utilise body fat as fuel, we must get to the heart of the stress and either change the situation or alter your perception.
Stress which is not managed well can often lead to anxiety issues and other more serious mental health challenges.