Stress is a natural reaction that our bodies have to help us survive in threatening situations. The fight-or-flight response is a survival mechanism that has been with us for thousands of years, and it’s still a useful way of managing stressful situations. But when stress becomes chronic—when it happens too often or goes on for too long—it can be harmful. Chronic stress can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, depression, weight gain and other health issues.
What is Stress?
Stress is a physical response pattern to a demanding situation. The human body is designed to react to stress. When we feel threatened, our bodies go into a “fight or flight” response designed to help us survive. The human body is equipped with a powerful defense mechanism known as the stress response. It’s a complex process that involves multiple systems in the body, including the nervous, endocrine, and immune systems.
Stressors are events or circumstances that challenge our well-being and require adaptation by the body. These can be positive (e.g., childbirth) or negative (e.g., physical assault). In either case, stressors trigger specific responses designed to protect us from harm.
Stress physiology consists of two main branches: the sympathetic nervous system (SNS), which prepares the body to cope with difficult situations, and the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), which restores balance after stressful events have passed.
Necessary for Survival
Stress is an evolutionary reaction for survival. It is not always bad, but it can be harmful when it becomes chronic.
When we’re stressed, our bodies react by releasing hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. These help us cope with the situation at hand by increasing heart rate, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels. They also cause us to become more alert and focused on the problem at hand so we can solve it quickly.
This response is useful in short bursts—for example, if you’re facing a tiger in the wild—but it can be harmful if it continues over time. The body’s stress response was designed for short periods of stress, not long periods of chronic stress (like living in poverty). When long-term chronic stress goes unchecked, our bodies start to break down from the strain: Our immune systems weaken; our brains shrink; even our bones get weaker because they don’t have enough time to rebuild themselves after each workout session (which happens when we’re stressed out).
Distress is a term that describes the negative emotions and feelings that arise when a person is exposed to prolonged stress. It is characterized by feelings of anxiety, depression, irritability, and other negative emotions that can impact a person’s mental health. Distress can also affect a person’s physical well-being, manifesting in symptoms such as headaches, muscle tension, high blood pressure, and gastrointestinal problems.
The impact of distress on health is significant, with numerous studies linking chronic stress to a variety of health issues, including cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, gastrointestinal problems, and immune disorders. In addition to physical health problems, distress also has implications for mental health. Individuals experiencing chronic stress are at an increased risk of developing mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety. It is also associated with decreased cognitive function, memory problems, and difficulties in decision-making abilities
Eustress, or positive stress, can be a great way to improve performance.
When we are under eustress, we are motivated and focused on what we are doing. We are more likely to be creative and innovative, which means that we can do things that our competitors aren’t able to do. And when we are under eustress, we’re less likely to make mistakes or overlook important details. We can experience eustress any time we’re doing something that makes us feel excited, happy, or engaged. You may be familiar with eustress as the feeling you get when you’re about to go on vacation or meet your favorite celebrity.
However, when our stress levels are too high, i.e. when they are in the realm of distress—we start making irrational decisions and forgetting things that are important. This can lead us down a path where nothing seems to go right for us anymore.
But if you practice yoga regularly, you’ll find that you naturally keep your moods in balance and stay motivated and mentally balanced throughout the day. Yoga helps us stay at the level of eustress all day long!
Yoga is an effective tool for stress relief, providing several benefits beyond just relaxation. Studies have shown that practicing yoga reduces stress and anxiety levels, lowers cortisol levels, and improves mental and physical health. Mindfulness, a critical component of yoga, enhances these effects and has positive outcomes for stress management and mental health. Yoga can be adapted to an individual’s needs and preferences and is a tool that can be easily integrated into daily life to promote overall wellbeing.