“Stress” is the evolutionarily determined response to internal or external factors that require immediate intervention by the body.
The state of stress mobilizes a large amount of energy to improve performance for a short period of time (Selye, 1930). Usually this activation is reduced when the causes are removed and the body can quickly return to a state of normality.
In contemporary societies, however, it often happens that the demands of the environment persist for a long time. This is far beyond our body’s ability to withstand a stressful situation. For example, a condition of economic poverty, working hours that are too long, working days full of demands, family problems or chronic illnesses.
In these and many other cases, the stress response is not deactivated leading to resource depletion and side effects called “metabolic syndrome”.
Furthermore, it has been shown that the condition of chronic stress is so addictive that the person begins to get used to and lose awareness of the physical and social symptoms that characterize it.
The most common signs of the stress response are:
Presence of emotions such as anger, irritability, anxiety and depression
Muscle-tension pains such as migraines, back, jaw and neck pain.
Digestive problems such as stomach acid, gastroesophageal reflux, diarrhea, constipation and irritable bowel syndrome.
Increased blood pressure, fast heart rate, sweating, shaking, shortness of breath or tightness in the chest.
Here, therefore, it becomes necessary to find useful strategies to reduce physiological activation and fight stress.
The first step is to monitor the signals your mind and body show when you are under stress. Each person experiences this state in a different way and, therefore, it is necessary to ask: “what do I think? What do I feel and what feelings do I have when I am under stress? ”. For example, some people have difficulty concentrating, others feel irritable and furious, and still others experience fatigue and a poor appetite.
Stress is a non-specific response, activated by any situation perceived as superior to one’s strength. It is therefore important to identify the daily events that lead to activating the stress response. Music Can help you a lot in combating with stress.
Do they have to do with family? The work? Home care?
Defining and taking note of these situations is very helpful in fighting stress and preventing and managing its side effects.
Once you are able to recognize the stress signals and the situations that activate them, it is necessary to manage the physiological activation inherent in the stress response.
Coping with stress:
A second strategy is to step back from these situations and give yourself permission to take a break. Dedicating yourself to something that reduces stress will only improve the way you deal with it.
Some of these activities are presented below.
Much research has now shown that exercise has a powerful anti-stress effect (Jackson, 2013). If dealt with regularly, exercise produces substances called endorphins. These counteract the unpleasant sensations of stress and produce a feeling of energy and vitality. The literature (Hamer et al., 2008) shows that even 20 minutes of walking per day can be beneficial for many hours.
The rhythm and type of breathing can have a great impact on the physiological aspects of the state of stress. In general, two types of breathing can be distinguished. The high or clavicular one that involves the muscles of the chest and the low or diaphragmatic one that uses the diaphragm to a greater extent.
Usually in times of high stress due to muscle tension, people mainly use the first type of breathing. In doing so, however, they fill the lungs less and increase the respiratory rate. Conversely, diaphragmatic breathing has a slower and more constant rhythm. The physiological activation of the organism can be significantly reduced by this type of breathing (Ma et al., 2017).
To learn this breathing it may be useful to lie down on a bed and place your hands on your stomach, if during the inhalation this swells then the breathing is diaphragmatic. Otherwise, you will have to try, very gently, to inflate it with each inhalation. It is useful to underline that one should not try to “throw out” the belly. Just relax the abdominal muscles to make room for the diaphragm to contract.
Once you have learned this type of breathing, valid for fighting stress, you can perform short sessions of ten minutes a day. The inhalation should last for about three seconds, while the exhalation for five seconds. Extending the time for air to escape from the lungs naturally stimulates our relaxation response through the vagus nerve.
The literature indicates that practicing a form of meditation daily allows reducing psychological and physical tension. It is therefore not surprising that one of the most effective protocols for stress management is Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction. It starts from mindfulness meditation which aims to develop a new way of relating to one’s thoughts and emotions. Playing an instrument can help in reducing stress
Relaxation is that psychophysiological state in which the body’s activity stabilizes at normal levels. When in this state, the body is not solicited to respond to environmental demands and is therefore perceived as a state of well-being and serenity.
In order to reduce stress, especially if chronic, it can be useful to learn relaxation techniques. The most widespread and historically effective procedure is Jacobson’s progressive muscle relaxation (1929). It involves the alternation of moments in which certain muscles are voluntarily contracted and moments in which these muscles are released.
For example, you can start shaking hands for five seconds and then suddenly release them for the next fifteen. We will then move on to the arms, shoulders, thighs, feet, and face, and then start the cycle again and complete it three times. If the exercise is done daily, in a few weeks it will become easier and easier to recall the state of relaxation allowing you to enter it even simply thinking about relaxing.
An often underestimated aspect in strategies to combat the symptoms of stress is the respect for the quantity and quality of sleep that the human being needs. When we are under stress, the hormones responsible for physiological activation (glucocorticoids) stimulate the brain making it difficult to fall asleep or disturbing the deep stages of sleep. At the same time, since sleep is the moment in which the brain recharges itself with energy, the deprivation of hours of rest leads to memory and concentration difficulties during wakefulness. These are in fact themselves a cause for stress.
This is why taking care of sleep hygiene is essential to reduce stress. The main measures are:
Build a sleep routine before going to bed, for example by always doing the same things in the ten minutes before going to bed.
Eat lightly in the evening so that you are not yet in the digestive phase when you go to bed.
Engage in relaxing activities in the ninety minutes before going to bed.
Limit the intake of stimulants such as coffee, tea, chocolate or nicotine in the morning and never before going to bed.
Ensure an adequate environment for rest, therefore good air quality and a temperature of around eighteen degrees.
Maintain social relationships:
Frequently what happens when the demands, especially at work, increase is the reduction of social and leisure activities. This, if it is apparently understandable, has deleterious effects on psychological and physical well-being. Having moments of sharing with loved ones has a powerful anti-stress effect on the human body. The connection with others regulates the emotional state and allows the body to rebalance itself.
Therefore it is important to allocate time during the week for these moments. Otherwise it is very likely that “the work expands to occupy all available time”. To this end it is essential to change the perspective that one has of these hours by starting to consider them useful to one’s professional and personal life. They are a functional time to recharge the energies.
In conclusion, the stress response is a formidable ability of our organism. It developed thousands of years ago to face challenges that we encounter very hardly in our culture today. It is calibrated for momentary and defined efforts over time, certainly not to be the usual state of activation. It is therefore necessary to learn to manage stress and, above all, to deactivate its reactions when useless.