Stress is essential for our survival. It is an alarm response that provides us with the stamina, speed and focus needed to cope with real or potential danger. Our senses are awakened and our body spontaneously prepares to face an emergency situation:
- Our heart beats faster.
- Our breathing quickens.
- Our muscles tighten.
- Our pupils dilate.
- We sweat more.
However, stress doesn’t just occur when we face danger. It can also manifest itself in everyday life situations, for example if we have to deliver an oral presentation in front of an audience or find a babysitter at the last minute.
What causes stress
We are confronted with stressful situations every day. These can be real (like the loss of a job), potential (announced job cuts) or perceived as real ("I can’t make any mistakes when I’m at work."). They can be positive (the birth of a child) or negative (bereaving a loved one). Stressors usually mean that we need to make changes, and they can arise from all kinds of situations, such as:
- Getting injured
- Lack of sleep
- Being a perfectionist
- Lack of time
We all have different abilities to manage life events and to deal with them. The level of stress associated with a situation varies depending on the person, past experiences and the time of life during which the situation occurs.
When stress becomes chronic...
Chronic stress is different from acute stress. Acute stress is our body’s response to better respond to a situation that is usually random and short term. This is usually a "good stress" that helps us to perform better at the right time.
Chronic stress is a prolonged and intense stress that can be harmful to our health. It usually sets in when we perceive that the demands made on us are greater than what we believe we can handle. It means that our body is constantly in alert mode. Chronic stress can lead to psychological consequences such as depression, but also physical consequences such as pain or even heart problems. In short, the long-term risk is that our body will eventually become exhausted. We sometimes lead an unhealthy “North American lifestyle” at a breakneck pace, which includes poor nutrition, lack of sleep, or an excessive need for high performance and achievement, all of which can precipitate the onset of chronic stress.
Can chronic stress be better controlled?
Definitely! In order to better manage stress, you must first identify the major source(s) of stress in your life. It then becomes easier to find solutions to resolve and eliminate the situations causing unnecessary stress. It is also important to get periods of rest every day.
Continue your reading about stress in our Cultivating a balanced mind