If you live in the early part of the twenty-first century, chances are you are feeling stressed.
Life for most of us today is highly pressured. Many of us feel stressed because of too little money, and too many urgent things to do, and not enough time to relax and unwind.
We are often sleeping too little, eating the wrong foods, drinking too much coffee, smoking too many cigarettes, juggling too many responsibilities, facing impossible deadlines, and exposed to a lot of chemical and noise pollution. Does this sound like your life?
In addition to the pressures of our daily lives, the constant barrage of terrible news coming at us from every corner of the world also adds to our sense of helplessness and anxiety. As a result of too many assaults on our mind and our body, we are often in a state of feeling acute stress much of the time.
What is stress exactly?
Your body has a wonderful internal program to deal with dangerous events that pose a threat to your survival.
When your brain decides you are facing a threat of some kind, it pours lots of chemicals into your bloodstream to make you feel instantly very alert, and very physically powerful to deal with potential danger, or to enable you to run away quickly.
This body system in response to a threat is meant to help you cope with real danger, such as a physical attack or an accident.
During a dangerous situation you will breathe much more deeply and quickly, taking in far more oxygen than usual. Your heart will be pounding in your chest. Your blood pressure will rise. You will have much higher levels of glucose in your blood in order to fuel your muscles.
These changes happen in your body so that in case of danger, your muscles have the ability to fight, to move heavy objects, or to swiftly run away.
For thousands of years this built-in physical response to danger has helped people overcome dangerous threats like marauding bears, and raging fires and floods. If your ancestors had to fight off a bear, or run from a forest fire, this stress response of the body gave them a chance to survive the emergency.
This powerful bodily reaction to danger is sometimes called the "fight or flight response". The fight or flight response still operates in us today.
The trouble is however, that in modern times, most of the stressors we face are not physical, but are psychological in origin. Most of the things that cause us to be stressed are not short term dangers, but events that go on and on for months.
For example, you may have a boss who constantly belittles you at work. Or you may face a mortgage payment when you have just lost your job.
A small amount of occasional short-term stress can actually be good for you. You will feel more alert, focused, and energized to take on a challenge.
If the stress seems to go on and on, such as in a war or a bad marriage, or when you face long term financial problems or illness, your brain perceives the threat as never-ending. Your brain then orders the release of a chemical called cortisol. Cortisol locks in the stress response reaction, and it keeps your body systems in a constant state of high alert.
The problem is that the body was not designed to live in a state of high alert permanently. Sooner or later the body's internal systems will start to break down.
What can we do to reduce the stress we feel?
One thing we can do to reduce our stress is to make sure that when we think about the things that are bothering us, that we are thinking about them in a realistic way.
If we have a habit of thinking about every negative event as if it is a huge catastrophe, we will be throwing our body systems into a state of high alert for trivial reasons. So be sure that you are not exaggerating to yourself how terrible an event really is.
And be sure to remind yourself of all your inner resources to deal with your problems, as well as the resources in your community that you can tap into for strength and guidance.
When we tell ourselves that we are weak and powerless and that our problems are overwhelming, we make ourselves more powerless than we really are.
If you are a person who tends not to confide in others when you have a problem, this will actually make your stress response worse. Refusing to talk about your problems can keep you feeling overwhelmed, and can keep you from seeing solutions.
When you are faced with a stressful situation, talking about it with a trusted friend or advisor is one of the best ways to start to deal with it.
This article is by Royane Real, author of "How You Can Be Smarter - Use Your Brain to Learn Faster, Remember Better and Be More Creative" To improve your brain power, download it today or get the paperback version at http://www.lulu.com/real