Chronic stress can be dangerous for the mind and the body. The body is predisposed to react to stress, a powerful alarm bell that once served to protect itself from the threats caused by attackers and predators. Today, these threats come in other forms but cause the same reaction. Every day there are multiple demands for sources of anxiety and fatigue, including taking up a heavy workload or taking care of your family. When the feeling is that you are constantly under attack, the response must be strategic and not left to chance. We discuss this topic with Dr. Katia Rastelli, psychotherapist at Humanitas.
Stress hormone: cortisol
Under threat, including a large dog that barks threateningly during our morning walk, the hypothalamus, a small region located at the base of the brain, activates an alarm system in the body. Through a combination of nerve and hormonal signs, the system induce the adrenal glands at the top of the kidneys by releasing a wave of hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol. The adrenaline increases the heart rate, raises the blood pressure and increases the energy supply. Cortisol, the primary stress hormone, increases the blood sugar (glucose), improves the brain’s use of glucose and improves the availability of substances that repair the tissues. Cortisol also slows down other functions that are not essential or harmful in a situation of struggle or flight, it alters the responses of the immune system and “silences” the digestive and reproductive system and the growth processes. This complex natural alarm system also communicates with the brain regions that control the mood, the motivation and the fear.
What side effects does stress have on the body?
The body’s stress response system usually limits itself. Once a threat that is perceived by us no longer has reason to be a danger, the hormone levels return to normal. When adrenaline and cortisol levels decrease, the heart rate and the blood pressure return to baseline levels and the other systems resume their regular activities. When, on the other hand, the reasons for stress are always present and you are constantly under attack, the reaction of the combat or flight remains active. The long-term activation of the stress response system, and the resulting overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones, can interrupt almost all processes in the body, putting us at increased risk of numerous health problems, including:
Memory and impairment of concentration
Ten tips for reducing the stress
– Eat and drink in moderation. Alcohol and food abuse may seem useful in reducing stress, but it actually makes it more acute.
– Be assertive. You don’t always have to satisfy the expectations or the requirements of others. It is all right, sometimes, to say “No” as well. Remember, being assertive allows you to defend your rights and beliefs while respecting those of the other.
– Stop smoking. Apart from the obvious health risks of cigarettes, nicotine acts as a stimulant and increases the symptoms of stress. Give yourself the chance to quit with unhealthy habits.
– Train regularly. Choose a non-competitive exercise and set reasonable goals. It has been shown that aerobic exercise releases endorphins, natural substances that help us feel better and maintain a positive attitude.
– Study and practice relaxation techniques. Relax every day. Choose between a variety of different techniques. Combine opposites: time for deep relaxation and time for aerobic exercise is a great way to protect your body from the effects of stress.
– Take responsibility with the right awareness. Control-whatever you can and leave behind that which you cannot control.
– Reduce stress factors. If we have the feeling that time is always too short, we must work on managing our time. This means being able to ask for help, when appropriate, setting priorities and being able to understand and listen to your own rhythm, while remembering always to take some time for yourself.
– Examine your own values and live with them. The more your actions reflect your beliefs, the better you will feel, no matter how busy your life is. Use your values when you choose your activities.
– Set realistic goals and expectations. Being aware that you cannot succeed at once can be healthy.
– Sell yourself to yourself. When you feel overwhelmed, remind yourself just what you are good at. It helps to have a healthy sense of self-esteem.
The psychotherapist’s word
“Over the last few years we have studied not only the effects of the events that are considered objectively stressful (bereavement, illness, loss of work, etc.), but also the overload caused by many minor but continuous stresses that can unfortunately have the same end result in terms of harmful effects on health – said the psychotherapist -. Aware of this are certain professional categories who operate in emergency situations or workloads, with families to manage and also elderly people at home to care for. For this reason, it seems that women are the most affected, mainly because of the cultural factors. However, it has been revealed that the results in terms of both adaptation and non-adaptation depend on the encounter between the extent of the stress and the individual personality characteristics of the person who is facing it, in other words, the more the load increases, the more the internal resources of each person are stimulated, with the possibility of resulting in important symptoms based on a series of specific factors, however it is equally true that there are people who “stress” themselves with little, others who bear a lot without apparent difficulty”.
The psychotherapist’s word
” Over the last few years we have studied not only the effects of the events that are considered objectively stressful (bereavement, illness, loss of work, etc.), but also the overload caused by many minor but continuous stressors that can unfortunately have the same end result in terms of harmful effects on health – said the psychotherapist -. Aware of this are certain professional categories who operate in emergency situations or workloads, with families to manage and also elderly people at home to care for. For this reason, it seems that women are the most affected, mainly because of the cultural factors. However, it has been revealed that the results in terms of both adaptation and non-adaptation depend on the encounter between the extent of the stress and the individual personality characteristics of the person who is facing it, as if to say that the more the load increases, the more the internal resources of each person are solicited, with the possibility or not of resulting in important symptoms based on a series of specific factors, but it is also true that there are people who “stress” with little, others who bear a lot without apparent difficulty”.
“It also depends on the so-called “buffers”, which are determined personal characteristics that both protect us or not from the “blows of life” which, fortunately, can be developed, in case of necessity, through a targeted intervention – explained the doctor – What are then these “protective factors”, whether innate or to be reinforced? They are an adequate self-esteem, the ability to invest in good relationships and support in many different areas of life that make us feel useful and loved, the ability to live the changes with flexibility, to get involved by engaging in change or management of what happens to us, with effort but but without ever letting go or feeling hopeless. Therefore, when faced with physical or mental symptoms, it is very important not to underestimate their extent by immediately understanding the need for action to reduce the burden in some way and find alternative ways to manage everything.
And to prevent it? It is important to stop every now and then in order to make a balance between incoming and outgoing energies, spaces dedicated to oneself and the others, moments of self-care (examinations, physical activity, well-being in general) and obligations , as well as, whenever possible, to correct the shot, by asking for collaboration and help from those around us”.