Some days you can hang out around the house spending quality time with the family and not have a care in the world. Other days, your mind seems to be racing and nearly everything that’s occurred over the course of the day has only made you feel worse.
Workplace stress or financial stress are two of the biggest causes of stress, although I will add caregiving stress since this has been on my plate for the last several months with aging parents who have been recovering from hip fractures. Whatever the cause of one’s stress, it is not a state to remain in as it causes havoc emotionally, mentally, and physically.
This is because the body has two major states: A stress state and a relaxation state. Depending on which state you’re currently in, your physical, mental and emotional states will all be vastly different. So, let’s go over what you might experience in each of these states.
From a neuroscience perspective, when you’re in the stress state, you’re in a state of constant alert- your nervous system constantly has the “fight-or-flight” mode activated and your body and mind are both on edge just waiting for the next “dangerous” event to occur.
With extra adrenaline pumping through your body, you might notice that your heart is racing and that your blood pressure has skyrocketed. You might even begin to feel some tension building up throughout your body, whether that’s in your muscles, joints, or in the form of a headache.
You could even make yourself physically sick in the form of nausea, stomach cramping, or even more susceptible to common illnesses, such as a cold or flu or other severe health problems. And forget about sleeping, because the stress and anxiety are even more relentless at night.
Mentally, you might not be able to focus as well as you normally would. Your thoughts are racing and it seems like your mind is bouncing around to 20 different ideas in a span of only a few minutes, and it seems as if there’s nothing that you can do to calm it.
You might snap at people when they approach you and have a lower tolerance for what you’re able to “put up with” during the day. It seems as if the smallest things will set you off, even though you’re usually pretty calm.
Likewise, being in the relaxation state involves having relatively low physical and mental tension flooding through your body. If you had to describe how you were feeling, you could probably describe it as “calm.”
Unlike the stress state, your blood pressure and heart rate are both within healthy ranges and, in fact, might be lower than they normally are. That’s because you have far less cortisol (the stress hormone) pumping through your body, which helps to physically put your body at ease.
When you’re relaxed, you might notice that any physical pain or muscle tension that has built up over the last several weeks is either less severe or completely gone. Your body seems to be functioning normally and you just feel better than ever.
You can finally get to sleep at night and your stomach and head no longer ache at the thought of going to work, school, or any major event. You’re much easier to associate with and people aren’t afraid to approach you in fear of how you will react.
You can tackle those big projects at work without fretting over every single task involved because you don’t feel as overwhelmed. Plus, you’re more likely to see the positives in even the worse situations that are going on around you.
Knowing the difference between these two states will help you to identify when you are under stress and the physical symptoms you may experience; this way, you can take some type of action to relieve the stress when those first signs/symptoms appear. Also, be aware that it may be difficult to get in a relaxed state if you’re under stress for a long time, as the body gets primed to be in it. It is natural for your body to fluctuate between the stress and relaxation state depending on what’s going on in your life physically, mentally, and emotionally. Even good stress (Eustress) will bring physical symptoms but can lead to some of the effects mentioned.
Though you can’t entirely prevent the stress state from coming on, as the fight-or-flight response can activate involuntarily, you can put in the effort to identify your stressors and develop healthy coping strategies. Work to get in a relaxed state – deep breathing is best, positive affirmations, meditation, journaling – these are just a few ways to do so. One more to add, cliché as it is (but does have healing properties) is to take a relaxing bath, ala ‘Calgon take me away!’
If you are experiencing high-levels of stress, or prolonged stress, and want to learn how to relax and develop healthy coping strategies, reach out to learn more. You don’t have to suffer – get started today!