Editors Note: This post is written by contributor Vin Miller. Vin is a certified health practitioner who is passionate about helping people get the most out of life.
There is much more to stress than the mental frustration that most people associate with it. It’s bad enough that the fast pace of modern life exposes us to significant amounts of anxiety and frustration, but what most people don’t realize is that it doesn’t end there.
Stress is often regarded as a negative state of mind, but that’s not always the case. In fact, we need it to survive, and in some cases, it results from a positive occurrence. It’s when we experience excessive amounts of stress on a regular basis that it becomes a problem.
The Physiology of Stress
Our autonomic nervous system controls many of the functions that keep us alive without us thinking about it. Breathing is one example of such a function that is essential to staying alive but impossible to forget. The autonomic nervous system is split into a parasympathetic branch and a sympathetic branch.
Parasympathetic Nervous System: is often described as “rest and digest” because it’s active when we’re relaxed and promotes digestion, immunity and repair. For example salivation is a result of the parasympathetic nervous system.
Sympathetic Nervous System: is described as “fight or flight” because it’s what enables us to deal with stress and flee from danger, but it does so at the cost of breaking down the body. For example the regulation of your heart rate is a result of the sympathetic nervous system.
Only one side of the autonomic nervous system is active at any given time. A very important concept to understand is that any time the sympathetic nervous system is stimulated, it’s a form of stress. As you would guess, any source of fear, anxiety or frustration will stimulate it, but so will any activity that is exciting, physically demanding or mentally challenging. This means that seemingly stress free activities such as playing a sport or solving a puzzle are sources of stress. As such, you’re probably dealing with much more stress than you realized!
Stress is Cumulative
Despite the many ways in which the sympathetic nervous system can be activated, the body responds in the same manner regardless of whether you perceive the stimulus as good or bad. All of the activities that stimulate your sympathetic nervous system accumulate into one single physiological load, and if this load is more than your body can handle, you’re health will be compromised.
Unless your favorite activities are very relaxed and calm in nature, it’s important to realize that they’re likely a source of stress and that you need to keep them in mind when you evaluate your overall stress load. For example, consider someone who has a frustrating day at work and watches an action movie that evening at home. While they may consider this to be an enjoyable activity that lifts their mood and offsets their stressful day, it’s actually stimulating and adds to the overall physiological burden on their body.
A Dangerous Misconception About Exercise
One of the most common reasons people exercise is to relieve stress. Those who do this on a regular basis often find themselves exhausted because of the tremendous burden that they’re putting on their body. Someone who is busy all day at work, runs a few miles every day, and perhaps doesn’t get quite enough sleep is keeping their body under constant stress and not giving it the rest needed to recover. Instead of relieving their stress, they’re making it worse!
Hidden Stress From Within
A potentially significant source of stress that few people are aware of is within the body. Chronic infections, unhealthy foods and chemical toxins are all things that can cause reactions that stimulate the sympathetic nervous system and put a considerable load on the body. While it’s difficult to assess how much stress may be occurring within your body without the help of lab tests, it should certainly provide motivation to be more careful with your diet and avoid chemical toxins whenever possible.
The Importance of Moderation
Once you realize the full scope of where your stress is coming from, it’s important to assess how well you feel and if you think your level of stress is dragging you down. If it is, then the only answer is to eliminate some of it.
The obvious place to start is to identify sources of negative stress that you can eliminate easily. Unfortunately, many of us will have a considerable amount of stress that we simply can’t avoid, but it certainly doesn’t mean that there’s nothing that can be done about it. By keeping your perspective as positive as possible in regard to such sources of stress, you’ll be able to reduce the effect that they have on you.
Finally, you may have to sacrifice some of the activities you enjoy, especially if they’re very demanding and you engage in them frequently. While this may sound like the last thing you want to do, you’ll likely be rewarded with more energy and better moods. As a result, you’ll get more enjoyment out of your favorite activities even though you may be doing them less often.
What are three unnecessary activities that are adding to your stress levels? How can you eliminate these immediately?