Here is an interesting question to accompany your spring cleaning: Are you doing things that are meaningful to you and that sit well with your goals and your sense of purpose? If not, that could be contributing to your stress level. Some stressors come from environmental factors. Others come from inside of us – our brain’s way of alerting us that something is not sitting well and there is a need for change.
The physiological changes in response to stress are adaptive. They are designed to briefly mobilize the body’s energy by activating the nervous system and the adrenal glands. The adrenal glands secrete all the hormones necessary to threaten an enemy, run away, or hide (freeze). Those hormones include epinephrine, norepinephrine, and glucocorticoids. But sometimes, the threatening or stressful situations that people encounter are chronic, and this forces the physiological changes into a chronic state. When the physiological changes that are designed to be brief get repeatedly activated, there can be health consequences like decreased immunity, sleep problems, and high blood pressure. So listen when your body gives you a stress response and consider what may need fixing or what help is needed.
The harm from stress isn’t the stress itself. It’s how we respond to the stress that makes all the difference.
Individual differences in personality can influence our physiological reaction to stress. One of the most important variables, regardless of personality type, is called a coping response. Having good coping strategies literally affects one’s brain chemistry. In stressful situations, performance of a coping response will release neurotransmitters in the brain that are calming (endogenous benzodiazepines).
So what makes a good coping response to stress? The first thing is reflection. Where is the stress coming from and what needs to change? Here are some tips:
- In response to stress take a moment to ask yourself two questions: How do I feel? and What do I need to change?
- Check out mindfulness meditation
- Give and receive some social support
- Move your body regularly
- Reduce the number of processed foods in your diet
- Consider how you spend your time. Are you doing things that are meaningful to you each week?
Jennifer Geiger PhD ABPP-CN