Stress became the disease of the century and it has managed to make its place in everyone’s life. It has never happened to me to meet someone who has never felt stress, especially considering the alert pace we live by. Although we all feel stressed at times, I noticed that very few people know exactly how stress works, why it occurs and especially, how to relax. Somehow, I’m not surprised because it’s hard to manage something you don’t understand well enough. As in any other situation, in order to manage, streamline or eliminate a problem it is necessary to know as much as possible in order to find the solutions. Regarding stress, psychologists deal with this part of understanding and explanation and together with clients they discover the most suitable and adapted solutions.
First of all, we need to understand when stress occurs and what this reaction means, what happens in our mind and body and how many types of stress we can experience. Stress is described by people as a state of emotional and mental tension, as an internal pressure, it comes with anxiety, agitation, low concentration capacity, diminished ability to enjoy daily life , a lack of ability to detach from the problem that causes stress, increased irritability, insomnia, poor sleep, sometimes nightmares, lack of patience and a low tolerance for frustration. This reaction can occur in various situations that involve pressure, limited time and deadlines, a high stake and so on. Usually people do not stress themselves out of everything. Meetings that will affect their salary, doctor appointments, waiting for medical examinations, deadline given by an aggressive boss and others are situations that would stress anyone. We all noticed the fear component of the stress. It is always about the fear of not losing, staining or ruining something important. However, people are still stressed for other reasons. For example, when they don’t know all the time what their partner does and this becomes a source of terrible stress. When they remain stuck in jobs they do not like and feel capped, with no future prospects and remain in a state of frustration and stress. Or when they have many activities in their life and they fail to prioritize or give up some of them and this way they become stressed. As far as you can see, although we are talking about stress, the shades are quite different. When we wait for medical tests it is normal to be nervous, to be a little stressed and most people will go through such emotions. But it is neither mandatory nor usual to feel stress when we do not know what , when and how our partner does in every second. And to not sleep at night, to be irritable and agitated because of it.
This is where the difference between normal and chronic stress, which comes from the deep wounds a person has, comes into place. The usual stress is the one that will be felt by each of us in a situation when there is a chance of losing something or when there is a danger coming. As for chronic stress, the stress from deep wounds, it is more about repressed emotions that are brought to the surface after exposure to triggers. When there is no real threat it is abnormal to feel stress, fear, agitation. For example, in the case of the couple issues, if we are unable to find peace because the partner did not respond to a message for an hour and we are already panicked and thinking of the worst then we know for sure this is a problem that has little to do with the present and more with the past. When we have unhealed wounds we are sensitive and it is very easy for us to be triggered by an environmental stimulus and feel strong emotions that have nothing to do with the present situation and there is a big chance of getting it confused for usual stress. Regarding the stress from these injuries, psychological intervention is needed to overcome the problem. As for ordinary stress, things are easier to manage even on your own.
I will continue to explain exactly what happens in our body when stress occurs. When we detect a threat in the environment our brain activates the structure called the amygdala which is responsible for the emotional reactions, especially those of fear. In a few moments the amygdala labels a situation as dangerous and transmits this signal to the brainstem that activates the sympathetic nervous system. You’ve certainly heard about the “fight or flight” reaction. Well, this reaction occurs through the sympathetic nervous system that activates the physical structures required for a fight or flight reaction. Thus, the levels of adrenaline and cortisol in the blood increase, which gives us a high dose of energy which is why we become agitated and we can no longer find the peace of body and mind, the pulse increases because there is a bigger need for blood to carry more oxygen to the organs, especially the muscles, there is an increase of the strength in the hands and legs and often there is a tremor arising from the load and tension that is created, the blood is withdrawn from the extremities and carried to the main organs, you cand also feel lightheaded and dizzy due to the energy, the tension, the alertness that arise quite suddenly. Of course, these sensations can be more intense or weaker and you can feel them all or only a few.
All of the above are accompanied by a sense of fear, tension, pressure and the reason why people cannot sleep when they are stressed is the adrenaline that continues to be released into the bloodstream. As long as danger remains active in our mind, the sympathetic system remains active, so adrenaline and cortisol are secreted constantly, impeding our ability to rest and relax. In the brainstem it is decided when the sympathetic system is activated and when the parasympathetic nervous system is activated. The parasympathetic nervous system has the role of relaxation, reassurance and regeneration following the stress reaction. When we talk about chronic stress, coming from older wounds we talk about another physiological reaction. In those types of states, the vagus nerve, which is located in the parasympathetic nervous system, is activated, which has the role of “freezing”. The vagus nerve is responsible for the reaction often called “play dead” when the situation involves danger, the absence of escaping possibilities, emotional overwhelming and especially helplessness. In conditions of helplessness, vagal cramping occurs and thus the traumatic states are dissociated and kept suppressed.
When the psychic finds that the reaction given by the sympathetic nervous system does not work but may even worsen the situation and there is no room for fight or flight, it automatically passes into the parasympathetic system and the vagus nerve is activated. The feelings in these situations (that are kept suprressed) can be triggered by stimuli from the external environment if they are similar to those from the traumatic event, even if the event is over, and those suppressed feelings come out aggressively.
Basically, what we need to understand is that stress is a consequence, a physiological and psychological reaction to a threat, a danger in our internal or external environment. Thus, the first step in managing stress is to identify what danger we are facing and what can be done about it.