What is stress and how does it affect me?

I'm often asked ‘What is stress?’ and ‘What affect does it have on the many areas of our lives; physical, mental and emotional?’.

Looking at the different types of stresses and how we experience stress, from a Neuroscience perspective helps us to understand how vital it is to build a robust resilience to stresses of all kinds, if we want to live long and happy lives.

Stress in a stimulus which takes us beyond the point of our resilience. Each of us has our own range or ‘bandwidth’ of stress tolerance. Being stressed just beyond our tolerance range or to its boundaries builds resilience. However, stress that tips us beyond that boundary leads to an inability to cope (dysregulation) and difficulty trying to re-regulate ourselves back to a normal calm functioning state.

One of the biggest problems with stress is that is happens first and foremost outside of our awareness and most of us are not conscious of the many negative effects on our whole personality.

We simply learn to live with the impairments such as fatigue, poor concentration, irritability, and negativity. It is also often only evident to those who shuck off this stress with an Applied Neuroscience training that we realise how well and easily we can function.

Stress comes in all shapes and sizes

We can be hit by a huge tsunami of stress from one event which totally overwhelms us. We become overcome with a huge dysregulating wave of trauma. E.g.,the death of a loved one, a serious car accident, a family divorce, the end of a valued relationship or the loss of a job.

We can experience relentless, insidious low levels of stress that wear us down and out over time, killing our vitality gently and softly and filling our processing bandwidth with ‘white noise’. E.g., dissatisfaction with our work environment or relationships, no major trauma just the slow eating away of joy and fulfilment. Even boredom can be a stress if experienced for long enough.

Stressful events can be physical (a car accident), emotional (being intimidated or negated), or mental (being given unreachable expectations and deadlines).

Stress can also come from a chemical source (some people are sensitive to food additives and chemical enhancement of food), light (poor, excessive or fluorescent light,) and noise (too loud or unpleasant sounds often mechanical sources such as traffic or industrial sounds).

What are the effects of stress?

Stress affects our physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing, and shows itself through a wide range of symptoms.

Physically, from a nervous tummy to heart palpitations, to changes in blood pressure and shallow and irregular breathing. Or it may be a dry mouth, an inability to go to sleep or stay asleep to wake feeling replenished.

Our bodies can also feel aches and pains due to tight muscles and the effects of excess adrenaline in our system. We may find that our digestion is not what it once was and we must avoid certain foods, or times we eat so that we don’t suffer for our decision.

Mentally, stress can show as a loss of the ability to concentrate, our short-term memory can diminish, we find it difficult to focus for more than short periods of time and our ability to think logically and rationally is hindered.