Life, our existence is nothing more than a condition where we have the rationality and capacity to function. We go through a number of stages that are supposed to teach us everything that we need to know to learn how to live and how to survive until death reaches us. These stages are infancy, toddlerhood, preschool years, early school years, adolescence, young adulthood, middle adulthood, and late adulthood. Yet, no one quite clearly can explain to you what events are going to transpire in your life that will scar you, what experiences are you going to go through that will activate your stress hormones and put them on a loop, how to handle strong emotions or emotions at all, how to understand your feelings or mental state, or how much life really hurts, disappoints, and feels like it suffocates you one day after the other. Now, all of these events are led by one piece, a masterpiece that feels like it dictates your life, stress.
We are all unique individuals that feel, think, and experience differently. Therefore, all of our individual experiences cannot be compared, and since they’re not alike we cannot fully understand what a person goes through until we live that same experience. Nevertheless, stress is a universal factor that causes an impact in all our lives. It might not be identical situations but it’s the same factor. So, what is stress? The World Health Organizations says that is “a state of worry or mental tension caused by a difficult situation…is a natural human response that prompts us to address challenges and threats on our lives. Everyone experiences stress to some degree.”. So, the continuance of this factor in human beings causes an imbalance that affects the mind, brain, and body.
How does stress affect us? When our body is subjected to an event of experience that causes extreme stress our brain secretes stress chemicals and lights the neural circuitry on fire. It sends alerts to the hypothalamus that sends sensory signals to the amygdala. The amygdala then processes these signals as the image, sounds, smells, taste, and touch of the moment and decides how to interpret that information and what level of danger is perceived. In their connection the autonomic nervous system is activated, alongside with the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. Both of these in their respective ways tackle the fight, flight or freeze response of the body to the stress. Think of it as a car’s pedals (increase to acceleration and decrease to stop). All of these signals and responses are activated so quickly that the brain doesn’t even have a clue, it can’t be aware of the cascade of events happening so fast. So, the sympathetic nervous system stays on, continuously secreting stress hormones (for example, cortisol), thus impacting and aggravating the individual’s balance and well-being. This overwhelming impact to the individual is focused on their physiological and psychological state. It stands in the way of completing tasks, activities, and duties (studying or working), relationships (partners, family and friends), organ health (heart, stomach, lungs), nervous system function (various levels of body ache and pain), use of substances (illegal drugs like cocaine and opioids, alcohol, and tobacco), anxiety, depression, and much more. Therefore, we need to have certain tools ready at hand to cope, manage, and reduce that unavoidable and always present stress.
Now, how do we reduce those levels of chronic long-term stress? Well, some counter responses towards relieving stress that are available to all of us are due to the different techniques that scientists have come upon throughout time. For example, the relaxation response, a combination of different approaches that evoke a state of relaxation (deep breathing, focusing on calmness and tranquility, connection with God through prayer, yoga, tai chi, and more). Physical activity and movement therapy (stretching, walking, running, swimming, aerobics, dancing, singing, and more) to reduce the body’s levels of stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol; and produce endorphins to heal. Social support triggers benefits in the well-being of a person. Some say that it helps with the setback of the healing process, improves the self-esteem and self-worth, encourages to keep working on one’s health, shows you other strategies or coping mechanisms, and you feel “loved”.
In addition to the previous mentioned, other ways to manage and assume control over stress is to establish a daily routine, nothing fancy, improve eating habits, prioritize getting enough sleep and rest. Also, limit the time that you spend on the internet (it can make you feel overwhelmed and more stressed), connect with nature, and reach out and seek medical assistance to take it one step further. When dealing with life, stress and stressors will always be present, and it’s completely natural to feel drained, frustrated, on edge, without words, enraged, gloomy, and more. But, do things for you, take care of yourself, modify or change your lifestyle if you have to, control your environment and your level of participation, establish your own time and what are your priorities, to what are you going to focus your energy on. All of this is normal, but what is not normal is not doing something about it, letting it beat, stump, and burry you. Putting yourself as number one as a priority in your life is extremely important, and taking care of your health is not something to be ashamed of. It’s something to be proud and joyous about because not many people can or want to do it. That is what proves great important, that you take care of yourself and are one with yourself.
Boland, B. (April, 2023). All the Ways Stress Can Impact Your Life. BANNER HEALTH. Web page: https://www.bannerhealth.com/healthcareblog/teach-me/stress
Rousseau, D. (2023). Module 3: Neurobiology of Trauma. Retrieved from: MET CJ 720 O2 Trauma and Crisis Intervention Printable Lectures.
Van der Kolk, B. A. (2014). Part Two, Chapter 4: Running for your life: The Anatomy of Survival. The body keeps the score: Brain, mind, and body in the healing of trauma. Viking Penguin.
Van der Kolk, B. A. (2014). Part Two, Chapter 5: Body-Brain Connections. The body keeps the score: Brain, mind, and body in the healing of trauma. Viking Penguin.
Van der Kolk, B. A. (2014). Part Two, Chapter 6: Losing Your Body, Losing Your Self. The body keeps the score: Brain, mind, and body in the healing of trauma. Viking Penguin.
Van der Kolk, B. A. (2014). Part Four, Chapter 11: Uncovering Secrets: The Problem of Traumatic Memory. The body keeps the score: Brain, mind, and body in the healing of trauma. Viking Penguin.
Van der Kolk, B. A. (2014). Part Four, Chapter 12: The Unbearable Heaviness of Remembering. The body keeps the score: Brain, mind, and body in the healing of trauma. Viking Penguin.
Van der Kolk, B. A. (2014). Prologue, Facing Trauma. The body keeps the score: Brain, mind, and body in the healing of trauma. Viking Penguin.
World Health Organization. (February, 2023). Stress. Web page: https://www.who.int/news-room/questions-and-answers/item/stress#:~:text=Stress%20can%20be%20defined%20as,experiences%20stress%20to%20some%20degree.