Stress: the definition
So, what is stress? Stress is the body’s way to react to any demand. All humans experience it- during competitions, final exams, a job interview- you name it. There are 2 types of stress psychological(from the environment or others, social situations) and physical (illness or body damage). Most of the stresses that humans face are psychological.
Stress is a step-by-step process. When a stressful demand is asked, the body will send a neuroendocrine response, linking the body and the brain, called the HPA axis (hypothalamuc-pituitary-adernal axis). This connects the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, adrenal cortex and the hippocampus by a bloodstream carrying special stress hormones. This process commences with the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus is the part of the brain that is responsible for reproducing our hormones. It processes emotional information inputs from the different parts of the nervous system. This information is then fused together to produce a hormonal result or output that stimulates the next part of the process: the pituitary gland. The pituitary gland then releases a new hormone called adrenocorticotrophin (ACTH) into the blood which activates the adrenal gland to secrete cortisol– a steroid hormone that raises blood sugar and other fuels or lipids. The final step in the process is cortisol feedback to the brain. The hippocampus, a key part for learning and memory, has the highest amount of cortisol receptors in the brain. This helps a person to focus. The amount of cortisol is the key of whether your stress is good or bad.
Stress: the bad
Constant stress, or chronic stress, can inhibit you from doing the things that you need to do. This stress is detrimental to your health because you are always in a threatened position. Excessive cortisol triggers inflammation in the brain which starts to kill brain cells. For example, your body performance can suffer and factors like heart disease, memory loss, depression, weight gain or loss and many more can take a great risk. Your immune, reproductive, excretory, and digestive systems can malfunction and cannot go back to its normal state. Too much stress will shrink your brain.
Stress: the good
However, not all stress is harmful. Stress can be beneficial at times. The truth is it is part of our fundamental body system. Also called eustress, it can motivate you to do well on an assignment. Research says that brief amounts of stress can enhance learning and memory. Another example that stress can be helpful is the fight or flight response. The fight or flight response is the reaction that prepares our body to remain or to run away. This response is essential for all forms of life. For example, in deer, they have to run as quick as they can if they see a predator nearby.
How to manage stress
There are many ways to manage stress and change it to something you can deal easily with.
– Play or Listen to music. Listening to music can help manage stress.
–Sleep. Sleep is when the brain and body rest for the next day.
–Ask people who you trust for help. This can help you tune down your HPA response.
–Laugh. Laughter can stimulate and cool down your HPA response and can help you increase your heart rate and blood pressure making the body feel more relaxed.
–Relax. Try out meditation or breathing exercises like Yoga or a walk in nature.
–Get Active. Like sleep, exercise can calm down your HPA response.
Everyone is different, so get proactive and make your own plan to relieve stress.
Book: Neuroscience Science of the Brain