Good stress... Bad stress... What is stress? Would you like to make it your ally?
Stress is increasingly being associated with the development of different diseases. CDC indicates that about 75% of visits to the Doctor are stress-related. OSHA indicates that this percentage is actually around 90%. But, what is stress? Selye, who was the initiator of the concept of biological stress in 1936, defines the general adaptation syndrome in three stages: The alarm phase happens when we first perceive something as stressful, and then the body initiates the fight-or-flight response; activating the nervous system and mobilizing the necessary resources to face it. The second phase of resistance: if the perceived stress continues, the body stays activated at a higher metabolic level in an effort to offset the persistent stress. And the last one, the exhaustion phase: prolonged exposure to the stressor will result in the depletion of the body’s resources, and the resulting wear and tear will suppress the immune system and cause bodily functions to deteriorate. This can lead to a variety of health issues and illnesses, including heart disease, digestive problems, depression, and diabetes. A classic example to understand this is a zebra that sees a lion and runs away to preserve its life; after a while, the zebra has managed to escape and it can be seen grazing quietly as if nothing had happened. When the zebra sees the lion, its body activates the fight-or-flight response, which is controlled by the sympathetic nervous system, and prepares the body to flee or fight, releasing hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. This mode of emergency in the case of the zebra is temporary, and once it has escaped, its body recovers its balance and the parasympathetic nervous system turns on, regulating the cardiovascular, digestive and genitourinary systems. In the case of humans, the process in the body is the same, with the difference that our lions do not have four legs. The lion can be your boss, your partner, your children, etc. A conflictive situation activates the fight-or-flight response and the human organism, unlike the zebra, prolongs the emergency mode when the conflict is not resolved. If the body is kept in emergency mode for long periods of time, homeostasis breaks, affecting the normal functioning of all systems. It is thus easy to understand, for example, the increase of gastric problems, infertility and sexual dysfunctions in the population today.
Dr. Kelly McGonigal in her TED talk explains a very revealing experiment. With a sample of thirty thousand adults from the United States for 8 years. Each person was asked annually what level of stress they had experienced during the previous year. It was observed that those who had answered: "high level of stress" had a higher risk of death of 43%. However, there is an interesting data reflected in a variable included in this experiment. People were asked if they considered stress harmful. For those who answered no, the risk of death did not increase, it was even reduced compared to people with less stress in the sample. This experiment suggests that stress may only be bad for you if you believe that to be the case.
A good way to identify your stress level may be asking yourself how coherent you are being in your life. For example, do you make decisions thinking about pleasing others? Or, on the contrary, you respect your emotions and your own desires. Pay attention to the thoughts that occupy your mind and all the emotions associated with them. What percentage of your day do you feel at peace? Being aware of your body, of all the sensations and emotions, is one of the best ways to identify what happens internally. Maintain a constant internal dialogue, become an observer of yourself and handle every emotion in the moment they appear. These are some recommendations that can help you manage stress in a beneficial way, making it your ally, which could help you to maintain a balance in your body and living a healthy life.