We’ve all been stressed before. If you haven’t you’re either lying to yourself or dead. And we all use different words for feeling stressed at different times. Stressed, worried, anxious, concerned, apprehensive, troubled, bothered…
Here’s another one for you:
I know this sounds kind of funny but that’s what stress really is. It’s just our bodies’ physical and emotional response to something our brain thinks is a threat. That could be a threat to our safety, our health, our financial security, our job security, our home or anything else.
If you (or more accurately your brain) think you’re under threat – you get stressed. Or any of those other words above. Your heart races, your breathing increases, you throat tightens up, your hands clench, your palms get sweaty, and you get those butterflies in your stomach.
On a short term basis that’s fine! That’s your body going into Fight or Flight mode to help you get out of that danger as quickly as possible. And as soon as you’re away from the danger, we settle back into Rest and Digest mode. Everything goes back to normal and we feel relaxed. Stress is just our body’s way of keeping us safe. It’s a good thing.
If that threat (remember that’s what we’re calling stress) sticks around though – that’s when we end up with what we call “chronic” stress. And that’s not such a good thing. If your brain feels like you’re constantly under threat, then it responds by you constantly being in a low level of fight or flight mode. Your heart rate is slightly faster, you stay sweaty, those butterflies stick around. And these are all caused by that hormone many of us have heard of called cortisol. And when there’s too much of that flowing around – fat comes quickly, and is much harder to lose.
But remember, stress in itself is a good thing. It’s there to keep us safe. To keep us alive.
So why is it ruining my day all the time???
You feel like stress is constantly ruining your day because your brain constantly thinks there’s a threat. And maybe there is. Or maybe, your brain is just interpreting those things incorrectly.
Let’s look at an example. You’ve arrived home from work, parked up, looked out the car window and noticed the door is half-open but none of the lights are on. You might look at that and your brain goes, “oh my god. Somebody’s broken in. Be careful Shaun they might still be in there and try to hurt you.”
So you get out the car and slowly walk to the door… you push it open and walk in the house. You get into the living room and turn the lights on but there’s nobody in there. Suddenly you hear rustling in the kitchen. You edge toward the kitchen door ready to give someone a straight knee to the family jewels. As you step into the kitchen you come face to face with…?!
Turns out they’d been out for some shopping and had just got home, too. The bags were heavy so they just went straight to the kitchen to put them on the counter.
Oh. Panic over. Silly brain.
This is a bit of a jokey example but I invite you to try and think of other examples for yourself. Can you think of a time when your brain jumped to a conclusion that made you feel stressed but turned out to be something completely different?
Remember. Your brain is just trying to keep you safe. That’s it’s number one job. If you’re not safe you’re probably dead. And then you’re no use to anybody.
Next time you’re feeling stressed – ask yourself if your brain is just making something up to try and keep you safe. And even better, ask if it might be wrong.
Title image via.