What is stress? And how can you manage stress better?

Stress is an ancient survival technique our ancestors developed that was extremely useful.


In essence stress is your flight/fight response kicking into gear.


To break it down, simpler than a psychologist would probably like us to, think through this example:


An ancestor of yours is walking through the jungle looking for some sweet fruits on a sunny afternoon.


Just as they reach up to pick a banana out of a tree they hear the snarl of a tiger.

They turn around and 2metres away is a ferocious looking tiger.


What do they do? How can they survive this situation?


Well they either run away or fight the tiger or they get eaten and die.


Seeing as whoever is reading this is almost certainly the long lost ancestor of someone who survived this situation most likely what happened was this:


On hearing the growl and on seeing the tiger the ancestors body identified a significant threat to their life and they kicked into survival mode.

Adrenalin courses through their veins.

Their pupils widen to better see the environment around them, their arteries open and blood. courses from their guts to the muscles of the legs and arms.

And they either bob the tiger on the nose or jump up the closest tree.



What has that got to do with the fact that work stresses me out so much I can’t get out bed?


In the 21st century we no longer have tigers, nor many jungles but that is more of a conversation for our environmental activist friends to have with you.


But what we do have is threats, tangible or perceived. And our body reacts in the same way.


In social situation with people you don’t well know and are worried about their opinions? This will be perceived as threat and we will kick into a mild form of flight/fight.


In a work place with a boss that makes you feel uncomfortable/unsafe? Your body sees this as threat.


Have a bunch of options you have to choose between without any clear best course? Even this can kick us into flight fright mode.



What is the link between stress and anxiety?


In many ways they are the same thing, or at least similar fruits from the same tree.

Anxiety is often thought of as a disproportionate response to stimuli. Like when anxiety is really bad and you don’t want to leave the house for fear of something stressful happening.



So what can you do if you are stressed or anxious?

If it is affecting your quality of life you should see your GP or psychologist. They will be better able to give individual and specific advice than the broad discussion that is coming.


We talk a lot at the Neighbourhood Clinic of the biopsychosocial model. In essence this means that your state of health is a combination of your biology, your psychology and your social setting.


Easing stress or anxiety can utilise all of these or focus on one of them if they are the most pressing.



What?


Ok, I appreciate that this is leaning toward the jargon-y side of things so let try some examples.


When we are stressed it can manifest as muscle tightness, digestive issues (remember the blood gets pushed to your muscles and away from your organs!), irritability, irrationality, fear etc.


For some getting a really great massage is a great way to calm your nervous system down.


For others talking to a trained professional, a GP or a Psychologist, can be really beneficial as they can help you plot a course through your thoughts/situation.


For others it is the social setting that we are in that is the cause. Think about being a trans kid in a andro/hetero normative society at a school where there has never been an LGBTIQ+ person?


No amount of massage or talking about their feelings is going to take that kids environmental stress away.


No, in that situation a good idea would be to try to find a community that provides support. Parents, friends, people in the same situation.


Remember, stress can be the result of the environment you are in.



Concluding notes


Stress is common, anxiety likewise.

Unfortunately magic wands that can eradicate stressful environments (and bigoted capitalist society’s) do not yet exist.

There are no simple cures but there are simple approaches that can help.

GPs that listen and care and work closely with Psychologists are a great first port of call. Or if you already have a psychologist, make an appointment and ask for some tips to help you.

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