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How Stress Affects Us Physically

The biological nature of stress is an interesting one, it predates to our ancestors responding to a variety of environment challenges such as scarce resources and urgency of time. Thus, they needed to act quickly in order to find food and secure shelter. The faster you acted, the greater the chance you had to secure said items and in turn survival. It is fair to say that our ancestors acted swiftly, as if they had not, we would not be here today. It was quite literally the survival of the fittest where stress played a crucial role to reinvigorate.

Today we face different stressors, we worry about our job security, our families and right now the possibility of being locked in our houses once again. Such threats are usually more chronic in nature and we usually learn how to deal with them overtime. However, our body reacts to them in the same way as it would have for our ancestors to existential threats.

Our face feels warm when we are embarrassed in a social situation. We feel a rush of adrenaline when our boss calls us to their office. These experiences are a result of the fight or flight response that the body has issued.

Fight or Flight Response

It is a sequence of internal and behavioural processes that is triggered when a threat is perceived which prepares for either struggle or escape. Although, it worked well in the past, it is much less applicable now, running out of your office when called up by your boss is not a viable option.

The physical stress response begins with a situation that arouses which stimulates a string of physiological responses that are adaptive in the short term but can be harmful if allowed to prolong. For the most part, we are able to cope with the physical demands of stress and in fact we may even thrive on it. Stress causes us to focus on responding to important events, to solve and find some sort of conclusion to them.

On the flip side, stress has its negative repercussions as well, for those of us who are "worriers", we may find ourselves overthinking and overworrying about situations that are out of our control. We attach a deeper meaning to the experiences we have and try to overanalyze to make ourselves feel better. This is a direct result of stress and is one that may be familiar to alot of you. It is also how stress-related disorders such as anxiety and depression sets its roots.

It all ties back to how we respond; flight or flight response, when we are faced with a stressful situation, we experience arousal by having an accelerated heart rate, higher breathing rate and increased blood pressure. The aforementioned description can also be known as acute stress which is a form of stress-related arousal that typically has a limited duration.

Now, it has a limited duration because it would be extremely unhealthy to subject your body to such high demands of stress for a prolonged period. It is exactly how some people push themselves to the limit and experience burnout in the process as discussed in the previous article post.

Too often, we associate work stress as threatening enough scenarios to illicit this response. Thus, we gradually begin to associate every work-related task and scenario as threatening and is how so many of us experience work-related burnout. Staying physiologically alert for long periods naturally wears down the body's immune system. Hence, doing so will inevitably create a serious health risks as your body will be considerably weaker.

The temptation is certainly there, to frequently interpret every workplace experience as threatening but we need to consider the implications that this has. We all take pride in our work and want to be as efficient as possible but it is important to do so in a healthy, noncompulsive manner.

Here are some tips to maintain a healthy work-life balance:

1) Manage your time BETTER

Office hours are office hours and that's it. You need to draw a line between your working hours and your time to recharge. If you are productive enough during your stipulated hours, you would not need to work overtime. Your boss is not going to do it for you, you have to look after your own well-being.

2) Prioritize your life

There are only so many hours in the day and we often overload ourselves with tasks that do not require our immediate attention. Instead, identify time-sensitive issues and focus on completing them to the best of your ability.

3) Get enough sleep

Perhaps one of the most overlooked components, sleep is far more critical than people realise. It offers your mind and body a chance to recover from the stress that you have put it through during the day. Sleep may feel like an inconvenience at times, but think of how productive you will be after a good night's sleep.

4) Exercise

This can be difficult, the last thing we want to do after a long day at work is to exert our bodies physically. However, the benefits are there for all to see, through exercise, your body will get its much craved feel good endorphins. No one is asking you to go to the gym for a full body workout. In fact, it can be something as simple as a 5 min workout from the comfort of your home. You just need something to get your endorphins going. Your body will take you for that short 5 minute workout.


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