The truth about stress? (A brief guide)

The truth about stress?

In this guide, we will discuss and review the documentary presented by Fiona Phillips called “The truth about stress” from the BBC. 

The truth about stress?

Fiona Phillips starts whit the following phrase, “Stress!… The world health organization has declared it the health epidemic of the 21st century, last year it accounted for nearly half of all sick days”. 

Let’s meditate on it for a second, stress is a normal part of our lives and sometimes we are so used to feeling the stress that we have forgotten how it is to live stress-free. In addition, the fact that it is considered one of the main reasons for sick leave, makes us wonder if the main reasons for stress are related to work or personal reasons. 

Either way, Stress, and anxiety keep rising alarmingly, turning this into a matter of public health. As Fiona describes “life is a constant battle with traffic jams, trying to find parking spaces, losing keys, crowded trains, delays, juggling work and family, as well as trying to make ends meet. In our busy 24/7 connected world, there is plenty to stress us out”. 

The truth about stress? (A brief guide)

This makes me wonder, is this whole truth? Our unavoidable fate?. Well, what happens to those who live in the countryside an island or a similar place? Or what happens if we actually got the time and the chance to do what we love? Who has decided to have a less hectic and stressful life? Sure, we are not saying they don’t experience stress but they will have other things to stress about and probably to a lesser extent. 

Let’s talk about the latest scientific research on stress, what we can do to manage our stress levels and anxiety and how stress can potentially affect our bodies and brain. 

Is stress considered normal?

As odd and strange as it may sound, stress can be good for you. Yes, bear with me for a moment and let us explain what we mean with it. Stress can often lead you to want to perform at your best. Stress can even be a great warning sign and help you stay alert if there is an imminent danger or something that can potentially harm you. 

Stress is also known as being the modern-day illness with many people in the 21st century complaining about feeling high levels of stress. Stress is can lead to some awful diseases such as diabetes, dementia, and cancer. Stress doesn’t just affect your emotions, how you feel and how you perceived the world but it can also affect your body too.

Acute stress can be your primal reaction to protect yourself, your body’s fight or fright response. So when we sense danger our natural stress responses help us deal with those types of situations, by making us overly aware and ensuring we react quickly.

The truth about stress? (A brief guide)

Stress usually comes from a lack of control, although bodily symptoms associated with fear, anger and anxiety (a dry mouth, beating heart, twisting stomach and sweaty palms) are also the same for excitement. By adopting a head up, confident posture and saying to yourself “I feel excited,” it is possible to train your brain to create another emotion. The difference is all in the mind. So in other words, stress is triggered by how you perceive the situation – it’s your body’s natural response.

 By almost tricking your brain into thinking it’s excited instead of nervous while also adopting a physical stance that allows for deeper breaths, you’re able to encourage optimal production of the hormone, tap into the energy of a stressful situation and take back control.

Chronic stress is the real danger, the real issue, this does not make you feel better, chronic stress has no benefits. Chronic stress can have serious effects on your physical and mental health. It can weaken your immune system, creating greater vulnerability to a weak immune system. It can also increase your blood pressure (this is not good!) and eventually lead to depression.

However, through eating well, exercising and making suitable lifestyle changes, you can reduce the risk of this happening.

The truth about stress? (A brief guide)

“Why do we have all this stress and where does it come from?”

We should start by talking about the origins of stress. To evidence stressful responses, Fiona met with stress expert Professor Anna Whittaker to understand what stress is. who demonstrated through physiological measurements using a vest that was able to pick through sensors, heart rate, temperature, and breathing rate.  

The idea was to expose participants (3 volunteers) to have an animal encounter with either snakes or tarantulas. When exposed to the source of stress, “their bodies have an immediate physical response. The heart rate starts spiking, breathing rate increases and the body temperature rises. All signs of acute stress”.  

This acute stress reaction normally only lasts a few seconds, and once our bodies realize there is no actual threat or danger then they go back to normal. But the question is, “why does this happen?”.  

It has been suggested that acute stress is actually a primal instinctive reaction when we are faced with a dangerous possibly life-threatening situation otherwise known as the fight or flight response. 

This goes way back when we live in caves and were stalked by predators and when we sense that danger, the amygdala sends a distress signal to our control centre, which in turn activates the adrenal glands function to start pumping stress hormones directly into our bloodstream. 

In turn, our heart starts beating faster pumping enough blood to our muscles, increases our breathing rate so we can get more oxygen into our brain to sharpen our senses. So this type of stress-related response is associated with survival. 

Is stress still necessary for our survival?

In our modern world, we no longer face the same threats as our ancestors did, facing dangerous predators or constant life-threatening situations to ensure survival. However, the stressors have evolved and we are constantly being bombarded by lots of potential triggers that are not actually life-threatening but can evoke the same stress response. 

Going back to the experiment we discussed earlier, this time participants had to use the vest in normal day to day activities to monitor and record every moment of the day. This was purposefully done to see what actually triggered their stress levels. 

For the first participant, steve, a courier who is driven by deadlines, at 7:30 in the morning his heart is already spiking and due to his work, he can actually spend up to 12 hours a day stuck in his van! Time sensitivity plus not meeting the deadline or the thought of not making it on time can cause anyone a whole lot of stress. Situations such as being stuck in traffic and his gadget/technology failure were two of the reasons that caused more stress. 

On the other hand, Paulette, a single mom, gets up very early and it is already under pressure and in her case, financial problems are the ones that make her feel very stressed. 

What do they have in common? Stress. We all do indeed either because we have kids, financial problems, have time-consuming jobs, among other reasons which leave us with less time to spend with our families or friends because we are tired most of the time. 

Lifestyle changes to help with stress

Have you noticed how when you are stressed you tend to crave sweets and unhealthy food? This has a scientific explanation. Research has shown that when we are stressed food won’t taste the same so this is why we tend to eat sugary foods and unhealthy fast food. 

What is recommended when you are stressed is to eat food that is good to keep your energy levels and your blood sugar stable. Eating blueberries, almonds, walnuts or pumpkin seeds, which are considered a very good source of protein, can help us keep our blood sugar stable and provide a good source of protein. 

Another suggestion would be to cut coffee out of your life because if you are stressed, caffeine intake will make you feel even worse! It can cause insomnia, nervousness and an increased heart rate, all symptoms of stress. Instead, try to replace your caffeine intake for a cup of tea.  

Additional recommendations include avoiding to skip your breakfast, carry a bottle of water with time margins to make sure you stay hydrated, eat vitamin C-rich produce like oranges and berries to help boost your immune system and try to exercise, even if it is a 20-minute walk around the park or your neighborhood. 

The truth about stress? (A brief guide)

What happens in our brains when we are stressed?

When we are under a lot of stress our brains get flooded with stress hormones and we lose our ability to concentrate or focus. 

Having acute stress can actually help us deal with “whatever life throws at us”, but when we have too much stress, the rational part of our brain is “hijacked by the primal part and our ability to think clearly becomes overwhelmed by our emotional response” putting us at risk of having a nervous breakdown. 

The question is “is there a way we can deal with stress?” and the answer is yes, there are plenty of ways to cope with stress. For instance, Professor Ian  Robertson, a neuroscientist and clinical psychologist explain how we are able to change our perception of a threat and switching from negative to positive. It sounds easier saying it than doing it but it is possible.

Think about this, what do anger, anxiety, and excitement have in common? Well, basically the same bodily reactions it’s just we tend to qualify them as negative or positive emotions but they are not meant to be good or bad, they are just emotional states that let us express ourselves to the world around us. So you can actually have the power to turn one emotion as anxiety into excitement, but how?

When you are facing a situation where you are dealing with a lot of stress and you have all these physical reactions try reprogramming your brain by saying “I feel excited” until you actually believe it! It’s magic. 

Why is this blog about “the truth about stress?” important?

We have discussed so far how a bit and occasional amount of stress can be beneficial but we have also discussed the downside aspect of having chronic or prolonged stress. We tend to lose concentration and focus which difficulties our performance and the way we cope with certain situations. 

We also talked about what emotions have in command how switching from a negative to a positive perspective can actually help us manage and cope with stressful situations. When we let stress control our lives, we are always living to meet those expectations in a way where we are going to keep having negative perceptions about what is going on and we will keep having the mentality until we break the cycle. 

Remember, we can’t always control the situations we find ourselves in but we can have the power and the ability to control our response towards them, this will actually make a huge difference. 

Please feel free to comment in the comments section below!

Recommended reading

  • Mindfulness for Stress Management: 50 Ways to Improve Your Mood and Cultivate Calmness
  • To-Do List Formula: A Stress-Free Guide To Creating To-Do Lists That Work!
  • The Stress Solution: 4 steps to a calmer, happier, healthier you
  • Stress Less: Stop Stressing, Start Living
  • Stress-Proof: The ultimate guide to living a stress-free life

References

The truth about stress (Documentary)

The truth about stress? (A brief guide)

Juanita Agboola

Juanita Agboola is the editor in chief of HFNE and an expert in mental health online. She has been writing about online behaviour, mental health and psychology issues since 2012. All Guides are reviewed by our editorial team which constitutes various clinical psychologists, PhD and PsyD colleagues.