Since immemorial times, Stress, an innate response ingrained in our species, once played a vital role in our survival. However, in the contemporary World, it has earned a sinister reputation as “the silent assassin.”
I’ve been studying Stress and Anxiety for a decade, mainly because I have suffered from anxiety since I have memories. This Summer, the emotional challenge was on a new level. I lost my dad; he was 69 years old, and it shocked my World. One of my greatest and closest friends, who was helping to cope with the loss, one month later, died suddenly (age 45). We were friends for 40 years. As you can imagine, my Stress levels were in high gear. And I know that I’m not even near my natural stress levels.
I had decided to take Mental Health Awareness, mainly related to Stress and Anxiety, as my fighting banner in all my Portuguese content (I have this pet project called “Eleva-te“).
But considering that Stress is a relevant topic for today’s World, I will share some content here, translated to this broader forum.
This is my first article, which I hope will be a collection of articles related to Mental Health Awareness. All opinions and points of view are more than welcome.
The Evolutionary Roots of Stress
Stress has been a faithful companion throughout human evolution. In our ancestral days, this response was a matter of life and death. It could mean the difference between becoming a predator’s meal or successfully securing sustenance for one’s family.
Our senses, finely tuned over millennia, allow us to perceive the World around us. When we hear, see, feel, smell, or taste something, sensory information is swiftly transmitted to the thalamus, a relay station in the brain. From there, it is dispatched to various regions, including the amygdala and the neocortex.
The Amygdala’s Role: Fight or Flight
In situations of imminent danger, the amygdala, an almond-shaped structure in the brain, takes center stage. It operates at lightning speed, far outpacing the rational analysis conducted by the neocortex. The amygdala triggers the release of adrenaline and cortisol, the infamous stress hormones. This hormonal surge leads to increased heart rate, elevated blood pressure, and a surge of energy – the notorious “fight or flight” response (currently, the “freeze” was added to this concept, becoming a “FFF – Fight, Flight or Freeze” response). In simpler terms, our ancestors were ready to confront a threat head-on or swiftly escape. It’s safe to say that this response saved countless lives in the past.
The Concept of “Emotional Hijacking”
Psychologist Daniel Goleman introduced the term “emotional hijacking” in 1995 to describe this process. During an emotional hijacking, our reactions are driven by raw emotion, often leading to behaviours that are ill-suited to the situation at hand, especially in our modern World. This emotional rollercoaster can set off a chain reaction, exacerbating Stress.
Stress in the Modern World
While our DNA still bears the imprints of this primal response, the “life or death” scenarios our ancestors faced have evolved into symbolic challenges in today’s societies, particularly in developed nations. Rather than life-threatening situations, these challenges often revolve around our sense of security.
Identifying Stress in Your Life
Take a moment to reflect on your own life. Can you pinpoint situations where Stress has taken hold? It might manifest in your family life or rear its head in your professional endeavours. Jot down these instances; they’ll be valuable in understanding your stress triggers.
Today’s stressors are diverse and plentiful. Some common examples include:
- Workplace Pressures: Tight deadlines, demanding tasks, and performance expectations can elevate stress levels at work.
- Difficult Conversations: Engaging in challenging discussions with colleagues or superiors can be emotionally taxing.
- Financial Stress: Managing finances, especially in a volatile economy, can be a significant source of Stress.
- Parental Expectations: The anticipation of a child’s academic performance can lead to Stress for parents and the child.
- Societal Pressure: Various societal expectations, from body image ideals to career success, can weigh heavily on individuals.
The Silent Assassin’s Grip
What’s particularly insidious about Stress in the Modern World is that we often fail to recognize it. We operate on autopilot, caught up in the reactions it provokes without even realizing it. Our bodies respond with increased heart rates, elevated blood pressure, and a constant sense of urgency. Over time, these physical and mental responses can lead to a decline in our overall health.
This is why Stress has earned the moniker “the silent assassin.” It works quietly in the background, eroding our well-being over time without us even noticing.
Navigating the Stressful Waters
Now that we’ve explored the roots of Stress and its modern manifestations, the question arises: How can we avoid or, at the very least, effectively manage Stress? While it’s virtually impossible to eliminate Stress from our lives entirely, we can break the chain of events that lead to the snowball effect of escalating Stress.
Taking Control of “Emotional Hijacking”
The key to managing Stress lies in seizing control of the emotional hijacking process. This entails being present and attuned to the signals your body sends when Stress begins to creep in.
When you’re on the brink of a stress peak, you’ll likely notice physiological changes. These can manifest as tension in specific muscle groups, increased heart rate, or shallow breathing. Recognizing these early warning signs is the first step toward regaining control.
The Power of Mindfulness and Meditation
Practices like mindfulness and meditation offer invaluable tools for becoming self-aware of your body’s responses to Stress. Mindfulness involves cultivating present-moment awareness, while meditation provides a structured practice to develop these skills further.
Mindfulness in Action
- Cultivating Present-Moment Awareness: Mindfulness encourages us to pay attention to our thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations without judgment. It’s about being fully present in the here and now.
- Mindfulness Meditation Techniques: Mindful breathing, body scans, and loving-kindness meditation are just a few of the techniques that can help you become more attuned to your body and emotions.
Meditation’s Calming Embrace
- Lowering Stress Hormones: Regular meditation has been shown to reduce the levels of stress hormones like cortisol in the body.
- Enhancing Emotional Regulation: Meditation equips individuals with the tools to manage their emotional responses more effectively, promoting a sense of calm in the face of stressors.
Discovering Your Stress Cues
Understanding your unique physiological responses to Stress is crucial. It’s like having a personalized early warning system. For instance, if you immediately feel tension in your trapezius and rhomboid muscles like I do, consider it your cue to intervene.
Once you recognize your stress cues, it’s time to take action. Here are some practical steps you can take:
- Physical Activity: Engage in physical exercise to lower cortisol and adrenaline levels. Even a brisk walk can do wonders for reducing Stress. It will also deploy Dopamine, and your sense of achievement and joy will be improved.
- Reframing: Challenge your perception of stressful situations. Try to view them from a different angle or assign a more positive meaning to them.
- Breathing Exercises: Deep breathing exercises can help regulate your heart rate and promote relaxation.
Conclusion: Seize the Reins
In conclusion, Stress may be an ever-present companion in our lives, but it doesn’t have to be our silent assassin. By understanding its origins, recognizing its manifestations, and employing practical strategies like mindfulness, meditation, and physical activity, we can take back control. Stress may be a formidable foe, but armed with self-awareness and effective stress management techniques; we can turn the tables and lead a more balanced and fulfilling life. So, give it a try, and take the reins of your well-being!