We all know this word very well with the modern demands that continuously chap at our doors. I want to talk about it today, reflecting on my own journey with stress, but also sharing some insights, revelations and my appreciation for stress….YES…i did say appreciation.
We all experiences stress, from the minute we wake up and I strongly believe that we see stress as the enemy, the overwhelming companion. At times, we find that we feel that we just struggle, with the emotional rollercoaster, the tension and the thoughts associated with stress. Some of us will be very aware of adrenaline and cortisol.
Firstly cortisol, we need it, it wakes us up, keeps us going.
Think of cortisol as nature’s built-in alarm system. It’s your body’s main stress hormone. It works with certain parts of your brain to control your mood, motivation, and fear.
Your adrenal glands — triangle-shaped organs at the top of your kidneys — make cortisol.
It’s best known for helping fuel your body’s “fight-or-flight” instinct in a crisis, but cortisol plays an important role in a number of things your body does. For example, it:
- Manages how your body uses carbohydrates, fats, and proteins
- Keeps inflammation down
- Regulates your blood pressure
- Increases your blood sugar (glucose)
- Controls your sleep/wake cycle
- Boosts energy so you can handle stress and restores balance afterward
How Does It Work?
Your hypothalamus and pituitary gland — both located in your brain — can sense if your blood contains the right level of cortisol. If the level is too low, your brain adjusts the amount of hormones it makes. Your adrenal glands pick up on these signals. Then, they fine-tune the amount of cortisol they release.
Cortisol receptors — which are in most cells in your body — receive and use the hormone in different ways. Your needs will differ from day to day. For instance, when your body is on high alert, cortisol can alter or shut down functions that get in the way. These might include your digestive or reproductive systems, your immune system, or even your growth processes. So is it really one of the bad guys?? This remains a debate for some of us.
What about adrenaline?
When a stressful situation occurs and your heart begins to race, your hands begin to sweat, and you start looking for an escape, you have experienced a textbook case of fight-or-flight response. This response stems from the hormone adrenaline. Also called epinephrine, this hormone is a crucial part of the body’s fight-or-flight response, but over-exposure can be damaging to health. Because of this, adrenaline is a hormone worth understanding.
Adrenaline is produced in the medulla in the adrenal glands as well as some of the central nervous system’s neurons. Within a couple of minutes during a stressful situation, adrenaline is quickly released into the blood, sending impulses to organs to create a specific response.
What is the function of adrenaline?
Adrenaline triggers the body’s fight-or-flight response. This reaction causes air passages to dilate to provide the muscles with the oxygen they need to either fight danger or flee. Adrenaline also triggers the blood vessels to contract to re-direct blood toward major muscle groups, including the heart and lungs. The body’s ability to feel pain also decreases as a result of adrenaline, which is why you can continue running from or fighting danger even when injured. Adrenaline causes a noticeable increase in strength and performance, as well as heightened awareness, in stressful times. After the stress has subsided, adrenaline’s effect can last for up to an hour.
Problems associated with adrenaline
Adrenaline is an important part of your body’s ability to survive, but sometimes the body will release the hormone when it is under stress but not facing real danger. This can create feelings of dizziness, light-headedness, and vision changes. Also, adrenaline causes a release of glucose, which a fight-or-flight response would use. When no danger is present, that extra energy has no use, and this can leave the person feeling restless and irritable. Excessively high levels of the hormone due to stress without real danger can cause heart damage, insomnia, and a jittery, nervous feeling.
Where does mindfulness fit it in all this?
As we become skilled with mindfulness, we bring our awareness, to the body, our breathing, but most importantly in my opinion, our thoughts
As we begin to take on our demands, Before mindfulness I personally, started to fear them, underestimating my ability to cope, producing negative self talk, empowering my stress response and ultimately feeding the process.
As a result of mindfulness, I began noticing that I was getting caught up with my stream of thoughts, processing them, producing the powerful emotions and reactions. With practiced mindfulness. I recognise stress beginning, some times in the body but more often so, in the process of my own thinking.
Today, I become aware of my thoughts at meta level, observing them, using my breathing or body as my anchor and moving on. Sometimes, I even miss the thoughts and notice tension beginning in areas of my body, so mitigate this. I have developed a trap, per say, at each stress hurdle. Overall, I still feel stress, its byproducts, but more so, I am aware of this natural process. With mindfulness I have been able to reduce my response, improve my emotional reasoning and ultimately appreciate stress. It acts as my cue, to stop in that moment and just let things be and bring my focus else where.
Through training, non-judgement and patience, I now appreciate stress. Is lets me know so much more about who I am and when its time to find acceptance and calm, through technique.
I recommend practicing Progressive Muscle Relaxation Daily, up to 3 times in the beginning, to become aware of the tension in the body, but also to build the skill of relaxation. It took me 3 months to get there, but I proved this was possible. I also bring awareness to the breath each time my mind gets caught up with thoughts, worrys and preoccupations. With practice, mindfulness can have a profound affect with the stress response, and one day, maybe you will appreciate these natural processes to. Relaxation and healthy well-being are skills, make time for yourself, to just simply be and see what unfolds for you.