We all know that we should reduce stress to live a healthier life. But, where does stress come from, and why do our bodies react so negatively to it? Our stress response is something that we all share with the rest of the animal kingdom.
It may have negative side effects for modern humans, but your physical response to stress is there to save your life.
Imagine yourself as an early human, on the hunt. You spot your prey, and your body goes into high gear. Right now you are in a life or death situation, and your body reacts accordingly. All of your energy goes into the present moment. Your heart rate elevates, and your adrenaline spikes to access all of your stored energy. All of your body’s nonessentials shut down. No need for digestion, so you feel your mouth get dry. Your body also shuts down reproduction and growth. The moment is gone in an instant, as you aim and shoot.
Although you may have never been in this situation, parts of the experience may sound familiar. One example for me, is speaking in public. I can feel my heart racing, my palms sweat, time seems to slow, and my mouth gets dry. My body is preparing for me to have to run for my life, but my fear is social instead of environmental. In modern life, the stress response becomes much more damaging than the stressor ever could be.
Whereas stress in the animal kingdom is usually short-lived, only a couple of minutes at a time, humans can be plagued with lives full of stress on a daily basis. Our stress responses are not intended to be that long term, and therefore stress can have many negative impacts on your health, including type 2 diabetes, a decreased immune system, and high blood pressure.
Exercise is one great way to expel the fight or flight response that your body is preparing for in stressful situations. Aerobic exercise has been found to decrease the stress hormone, cortisol. Mindfulness, such as in yoga or meditation, also helps to reduce cortisol levels in the body. Positive connections with friends and family, and laughter can also combat the negative impacts of the modern stressful life. Finally, drinking a cup of tea, and listening to music are both very simple and fun choices that you can make every day to reduce stress.
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by Sarah McClure