Whether it’s Monday mornings, missing the bus, family dramas or that looming deadline, we all experience stress from time to time. In some situations a little bit of stress can be amazingly motivating, but in others it can become incredibly overwhelming, impacting on both your mental and physical health. So how much stress is good for you and when does it start to impact your health? We’ve done the research to give you the lowdown…
What is Stress?
Stress occurs when your body feels an impending threat, whether that’s being chased by an attacker or going into a nerve-wracking work meeting, which triggers the fight-or-fight response in the brain. This causes a surge of hormones in your body to help you deal with these threats: adrenaline and cortisol.
Adrenaline increases your heart rate, raises your blood pressure and gives you extra energy and cortisol, the stress hormone, also temporarily increases energy by triggering glucose to be released into your bloodstream. Whilst this is happening, other bodily functions that aren’t immediately needed, such as your digestive and immune systems, are suppressed. It’s all your body’s way of helping you fight or escape from the threat – clever right?
A little bit of stress can give you razor-sharp focus; just what you need to help you perform under pressure or get something important done. An upcoming project or deadline at work is a great example of this – when the mix of nerves and excitement (stress!) can actually help you achieve your goal and perform to the best of your ability. But of course, you need time to allow your body to relax once it’s over!
Too much of anything is never good for you - and this is definitely true when it comes to stress. When those small bouts of stress continue, becoming chronic, it can start to have a serious effect on your body, leading to problems such as trouble focusing, irritability, heart disease, sleep problems, depression and weight gain.
Constantly being in a state of ‘high alert’ ready for fight-or-flight means you’re body will be in overdrive and isn’t getting the time it needs to recover. Your normal bodily functions that have been suppressed due to stress, such as your digestion and immune system, won’t be able to return to optimal functioning – meaning your physical health will suffer as well as your mental health. Often relationship troubles or an extremely high-pressure job can be the cause of chronic stress.
The key to managing stress is, of course, balance! Having enough good stress but not too much negative stress. Think you have a little too much of the latter? Check out our blogpost on 10 ways to destress, here.