When we are exposed to frequent stress for extended periods of time, it sort of becomes the new normal doesn’t it?
- We adapt to "managing" a new boss who’s always got us on edge, making changes constantly and not seeing all we do for the good of the company.
- A loved one falls and ends up in a wheelchair, stuck at home. We do our best to care for them and get used to them expressing their frustration with “a little” short temperedness.
- An abusive childhood or relationship leaves us with a chronic memory or experience of stress and fear.
- We get caught up in reactive mode, easily set off and constantly thinking negative thought patterns and worry.
In any of these cases someone from the outside might see us and exclaim about what we should be doing to “fix “ it, and we shrug “It’s OK, it’s the way it goes” and move on.
The thing is, we think we are OK, but we most definitely are not. We have reached what is called a “stress set-point”.
Sort of like a weight set-point where we have a hard time losing weight past a certain point, a stress set-point leaves us stuck at a certain level of stress. We find that we are unable to recognize and break out of the same old stress responses.
Even a vacation reduces the level only temporarily. When we come home or go back to work, we climb right back to that level of stress.
- Weakens the hippocampus and produces excessive cortisol- the stress hormone
- Wears down our adrenal glands and we feel drained and exhausted
- Reduces cognitive functioning
- Jumpy, always looking to fight or flight
- Anxiety, waiting for the other shoe to drop
- High blood pressure, chest pain or rapid heart rate
- Head and body aches
What to do?
It’s likely that you’re reading this because you want to make some change, right? Getting in touch with yourself helps to see where the stress points are and how you respond to it.
Recognizing unhealthy coping strategies like over-eating, substance use, avoidance or negative self-talk is a good first step.
If we are locked up in struggle (fight or flight mode), we can begin to regularly create opportunities to experience things that inspire and positively touch our inner self.
You see, the body can’t create the biochemical and hormones we feel when we experience happiness, joy, or calm at the same time it’s manufacturing cortisol, so if we begin to experience more laughter and happiness, we naturally reduce the amount of the stress hormone. Cool huh?
Music, walking in nature, finding beauty and happiness in simple ways we can repeat regularly. Over time these activities can begin the reset process.
Regular meditation practice can help calm the racing mind and allow it to rest. This helps body and mind to relax and refresh, offering an opportunity to see things a little differently.
Adopting a healthy lifestyle, with more exercise and healthy foods.
Creating a plan to manage situations you know will be stressful in advance can help reduce the intensity of the triggers. How can you load up with positive feelings and experiences first?
Of course this is a deep subject with so much more to learn than in a blog post, but I hope this information gives you a start!