Stress is part of our everyday life, sometimes even more so as entrepreneurs. It is a natural reaction, both physical and mental, to situations we find ourselves in; it’s an inbuilt safety mechanism.
However, that doesn’t mean that stress is always necessary.
It is important to understand what happens to the body and mind when it is stressed, because then we begin to understand both the positive and the negative effects.
What is stress?
There is a part of the brain known as the hypothalamus that releases hormones known as adrenaline and cortisol. When faced with an unnerving situation it is common to find that our heart starts beating rapidly, our breathing rate speeds up, we may feel a little shaky and start to sweat, and we take onboard more oxygen that helps the brain decide what to do next.
All of this is controlled by our central nervous system and this is in charge of what is referred to as “fight or flight” mode.
Our liver will produce more glucose or blood sugar to give that extra bit of energy so that you are powered up to run, muscles will start to tense up in case they have to protect themselves from harm, and stress also stimulates the immune system. If you need to keep on the go then in the short-term this is just what you need to heal any wounds as well as keep infection at bay.
We are familiar with the concept of adrenaline surging around the body and it helps us in a positive way by ensuring we can quickly remove ourselves from danger.
Once that fear is removed then the central nervous system should instruct your systems to go back to normal. The heartbeat slows down along with the breathing rate, and blood pressure returns to normal. All of this is a natural process and won’t have an adverse effect on the body, unless a constant level of stress is maintained.
What can cause continuous stress?
Stress does not have to be caused by a perceived physical fear such as the threat of attack, for example. Everyone has trigger points and it can be the death of a close family member or partner, it could be the high pressure demands of your company, it may be caused by negative events such as divorce or moving.
Stress can be triggered by various pressures we face in our daily lives. Traumatic events, such as being involved in accidents or being in a war zone, can bring on high levels of stress, which is why we hear of members of the armed forces being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress syndrome.
All of these events have the potential to trigger stress and also to keep you under a constant state of pressure, which will have an effect on your health and well-being.
How stress impacts your body
It is not natural to keep your body in a continuous state of “fight or flight,” particularly when it comes to the physiological effects on your heart and blood pressure.
If your heart is constantly pumping blood and oxygen around the body at a faster rate than normal then something is going to give. Your heart is working a lot harder than it should, which could cause problems such as a stroke or heart attack in the long run.
Your digestive system is at risk because we all get that feeling of sickness or a churning in our stomach, which is a result of acid being produced when we are under pressure. This could irritate the lining of the stomach, result in heartburn or cause existing ulcers to start playing up. Producing too much blood sugar means the body tries to reabsorb this extra glucose and this puts us at risk of type 2 diabetes.
Your muscles are constantly tight, which leads to stress headaches, shoulder and back pain because the tissues in the body don’t get a chance to relax.
At this point it is tempting to turn to pain relief instead of trying to reduce the cause of the problem. It can also cause difficulties with the reproductive system, as men who are under constant stress over a long period of time may find testosterone levels start to drop. This can cause impotence or problems with production of sperm.
Stress and it’s impact on your life
Stress can have a significant impact on your life and the life of the people around you. There are a number of common effects of stress on both your behaviour and moods.
One debilitating effect is that people can suffer from depression because they are experiencing a feeling of being out of control, a lack of motivation, and often, interrupted sleep patterns.
Panic attacks and anxiety are also common problems and this can lead to difficulties between family members and partners, as stress sufferers do feel overwhelmed and can become very angry or irritable when previously they exhibited a calmer personality.
For those who are trying to deal with the changes in someone they have known for a long time, it can put pressure on family life and marital relations.
Mood swings and changes in behaviour mean that socially a person suffering stress will become more withdrawn. They may take to drinking more to try to keep their problems at bay, if they are a smoker they are likely to increase the number of cigarettes smoked, which in itself is not a healthy habit.
What’s the solution?
We know that if left too long stress can cause heart problems, diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure, to mention just a few health problems. However there are a number of stress management techniques that you can put in place reasonably quickly to manage your stress.
Managing your work-life balance (and priorities) is really important, putting aside time for family and friends, getting up and going for a walk or cycle, having a massage and keeping your sense of humour will all help mitigate the effects of stress on your body and your life.
The body’s reaction to stress might be a natural thing, but prolonged or continuous stress isn’t. Being aware of what stress is, what triggers it, and how you can manage the effects of stress on your body will go a long way towards improving your health, not to mention your life.
This article has been edited.
Jo Hannah is the CEO and Managing Director of Total Face Group, one of Melbourne’s leading facial aesthetics and cosmetics experts. While the company focuses on helping clients through external procedures, Jo also promotes the importance of a physically and mentally healthy and balanced lifestyle, not just for her clients but also for her employees.