Stress is often seen as something negative nowadays, but it’s actually a very smart and useful system. Our body is perfectly built to deal with stressful (dangerous) situations. When we get into a stressful situation, we automatically select one of the following reactions: flight, fight or freeze.
This was particularly useful in prehistoric times. Back then, if a dangerous animal approached us we had to quickly flee or fight, or protect ourselves by freezing. In dangerous situations we didn’t have time to think about what to do, so these primal reactions are automatic. Our body will do everything it can to make sure we can flee, fight or freeze.
Our bodies have two nervous systems: the sympathetic and the parasympathetic. Our body works best when these two are balanced. The sympathetic nervous system allows us to execute the primal stress reactions by for example increasing our blood pressure, powering our muscles and releasing certain hormones (like adrenaline). The parasympathetic nervous system helps our body return to rest by doing things like lowering our blood pressure, stimulating digestion and slowing down our heart beat.
When times of stress are alternated with moments of rest, the two nervous systems can stay in balance. However, when we have a lot of long-term (chronic) stress, they become unbalanced. When the sympathetic system goes in to overdrive to help us respond to stress, the parasympathetic system is partially shut down.
Unfortunately our nervous systems are not adapted to the stressful modern world we live in. Moments of stress often continue for long periods of time, without enough time for rest. This is why so many people suffer from chronic stress.
The unbalanced nervous systems from chronic stress cause many physical problems, such as:
- high blood pressure
- more chance of cardiovascular diseases
- stomach and intestinal problems
- suppressed immune system (more likely to get infections)
- increased anxiety
- muscle and back pains and headaches
- increased risk of diabetes
- burn out
This is why it’s so important to learn how to deal with stress and make enough time for rest and relaxation!