In today’s world, it’s hard to avoid stress in one form or another. We may have some form of stress going on in our personal lives with maybe health, relationship, or money issues, or we could be under pressure at work. We emerged from the shock of the global pandemic, but now face rising inflation, political instability, and geopolitical conflicts, with the ongoing catastrophic climate crisis in the background. With challenges like this, it’s no wonder we sometimes feel a bit stressed out.
Part of the challenge is that our bodies are still wired to react to threats in the same way as when we were hunter-gatherers over 60,000 years ago. This is the fight-or-flight reaction, which gets the body ready to deal with threatening situations. While this made sense facing a dangerous snake, we now experience many smaller, often intangible, challenges over the day as this same mechanism makes us experience stress. And stress in today’s world is increasing. In the post-pandemic world anxiety and depression have increased by 25%, often compounded by the stress of uncertainty, loss, and isolation.
Of course, there’s positive stress that motivates us to get things done and negative stress, which damages our health and reduces our performance. When we become stressed, the sympathetic nervous system stimulates the adrenal glands to release adrenaline and the “stress hormone”, cortisol. Adrenaline increases our heart rate and blood pressure, while cortisol shuts down non-essential systems in the body, alters the immune system, and affects our mood and emotions. Once the pressure or threat subsides, it can take between 20 to 60 minutes for the stress hormones to return the body to its normal level. If the stress is constant, the physical symptoms build up and remain in the body for much longer.