Let's face it, stress is a part of everyone's life. We feel stressed when we are overloaded, overworked, face problems in our lives and when things don't go to plan. Can you switch off when you need to? Does stress 'push' you in a positive way to enable you to achieve more, or does it overpower your thoughts and debilitate you, preventing you from thinking clearly and making good decisions? It's important we know how to manage our stress and have an outlet to balance it out with time for our mind and body to relax. This is key to our physical, emotional and mental health. However, in today's hectic society, which is mind and material driven, it's not uncommon for people to actually become addicted to stress. 

How can you tell if you're a stress addict?

Are you always on the go? Do you find yourself always trying to juggle multiple things at once, or even complaining about what needs to be done? Your body also tells you when there's too much stress in your system. Some of the symptoms you may feel are:

  • increased heart rate
  • irritability
  • insomnia
  • change in eating patterns
  • anxiety
  • withdrawl
  • depression
  • poor immune system, or constantly getting sick

Stress can also cause other addictive behaviours such as smoking, drugs or excess alcohol consumption as a means to counter the raised levels of stress hormones in our bodies. These activities only mask the problem and although may feel like they are alleviating the symptoms temporarily, cause much more damage to your health in the long run.

What stress does to your body

Going back in time, stress was a necessary state for survival. When an animal sensed danger, its body would immediately go into 'fight or flight' mode and stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol would be released into their systems. This would cause increased heart rate, breathing, blood flow and various other physical responses to facilitate either fight or flight, both survival instincts. Other bodily functions, such as digestion, reproduction, cognitive functions such as memory and learning all go into hibernation mode as all energy is focused and required to stay alive.  

In a medical or biological context, stress is a physical, mental, or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental tension. Stresses can be external (from the environment, psychological, or social situations) or internal (illness, or from a medical procedure). Stress can initiate the "fight or flight" response, a complex reaction of neurologic and endocrinologic systems.

In today's society, our everyday stresses include work deadlines, mortgage payments, juggling multiple priorities and social and family pressures, to name a few. Again, there is 'good' stress where in the short run, it can drive you to complete tasks and get through periods of difficult times. However, what happens when there is no end to stress?

The automatic physiological reactions caused by the production of stress hormones will be at increased levels indefinitely. When released for short-term benefits, this is the body's natural reaction to emit a response in order to survive. But over a prolonged period of time, this will have detrimental effects on the body. 

"A prolonged increase in blood pressure and heart rate puts stress on the cardiovascular system, leading to atherosclerosis, heart disease, and stroke. An extended decrease in digestive enzyme production and gut motility leads to heartburn, constipation, and irritable bowel syndrome. Altered blood flow to the reproductive organs can result in infertility, erectile dysfunction, and a host of other gynaecological issues."

When there are constant pressures in life, the body's natural way of releasing hormones actually is a way for you to cope with the situations at hand. So when the problems don't go away, your body feels that it actually needs the increased adrenaline and cortisol to keep on going. Once the constant pressures finally stop, most people find that they become ill and fatigued if there is nothing else to keep the adrenaline running in their system. That's when you become addicted to stress - when your body needs it.

Just as 'fight or flight' hormones get released into your body when there are stresses in your life, you also get 'feel good' hormones when you feel positive emotions. Remember that in today's world, stress is far more subjective than when it was life or death. When one person could juggle multiple deadlines, manage a household and maintain an active social life, another person could find coping with half of that would be impossible. Your mind is a very important contributor to your health.  You need to find ways to regularly relax your body and mind so that it's not in constant stress mode and inhibiting the natural physiological systems and processes in your body. If you can't change a life situation to enable a more manageable stress level, then you must make time to allow your mind to 'rest and restore'. If it is how your mind perceives something as being stressful, then similarly you must get your mind to begin the process of allowing your body to perceive calmness.

Everything begins with your thoughts. When you perceive stress, your body responds by releasing stress hormones, which results in physiological effects. A prolonged period of (perceived) stress would then permanently cause unnatural effects on the body on a long-term basis, which results in ailments, conditions of the body and disease. On the flip side, positive thoughts release 'feel good' hormones in the body with opposing effects. These create a more balanced and harmonious environment that is how the body was intended to function and produces physical health and wellbeing.

How to de-stress your mind

There are many techniques to help you to relax your body and mind. What you choose to do will be unique to you and what you find enjoyable. Some people like to socialise and be surrounded by friends and family to share fun and laughter. Others like to take long walks in nature or choose an enjoyable form of exercise to feel good. Whatever you choose, the point is that it should make you feel good.

Some of the things you can try are:

  • taking a walk in nature
  • surrounding yourself with people who make you smile and laugh
  • breathing exercises
  • meditation
  • listening to music
  • watching a 'feel-good' movie
  • doing activities you enjoy
  • taking part in regular exercise
  • eating a healthy and nutritious diet
  • taking regular salt baths

As busy as you may be, it's critical to slow down in order to allow your body to rest. And actually, when you do slow down, you will be able to function better too. And if this isn't done voluntarily, you will find that one day, your body and health will make the decision for you with symptoms and conditions that both need to be addressed. 

So start by making some minor changes to your lifestyle that will benefit your body and mind. After all, isn't that what life is all about and not just the hustle and bustle? You will be pleasantly surprised with how much better you will feel, and even find that you'll get more done once you give your mind and body some time to be still.

What are you waiting for? Isn't it time to start enjoying your life and feeling good?