Stress is an inevitable and largely unavoidable part of life. It always has been. We even have an instinctual stress response built into our genetic makeup, thanks to evolution. Momentary stress, known as “acute stress”, can be good. It can motivate you through a deadline, or give you the energy boost you need to finish your 10k run. However, when the body is in a constant or continuous state of stress (known as “chronic stress”) it can have some very real and serious effects on your physical and emotional health.
What is stress?
When you are stressed your body triggers “fight or flight” mode to try to help out. Adrenaline and cortisol are released into the bloodstream to give a rush of energy, making your heart beat faster, breathing increase, and blood vessels in your limbs dilate. It also signals your digestive system to change, directing higher levels of glucose into your bloodstream. Everything shifts towards preparing your body to protect itself from danger.
This response is inbuilt from our more primal ancestors, who used it to run from bears or defend themselves from an attacker. However, human evolution has not had time to adapt to our dramatically different lifestyles and working patterns that have become the norm over the past 150 years. Human DNA only changes 0.1% every 10,000 years, so we’ve still got a way to go!
Since our instincts are almost 10,000 years behind our lifestyle our stress systems are firing more often, and in response to situations where neither fight nor flight is practical or helpful – as much as we may love to sprint away from a complicated inheritance issue or fight our tax return. In many cases, our stress systems are firing continuously. Stress requires so much energy that your body puts everything else on hold while it deals with it, and the rest of your body suffers as a result. This is what causes some alarming effects on your body and your mental wellbeing.
In times of stress, it can be helpful to have a mental list of several things you can do to bring back a sense of calm. It’s always better to be proactive rather than reactive, so we recommend making these a regular habit. Here are a few suggestions:
1. Listening to a favourite piece of music – bonus points for dancing or singing along.
2. Breathing exercises – there are numerous apps and videos out there which can lead you through calming breathing exercises. These help to regulate your nervous system in times of stress and bring a sense of calmness.
3. Going outdoors – it’s an age-old piece of advice for a reason. A spot of fresh air is rejuvenating and clears the mind. Even better if you can do this out in nature.
4. Helping someone else – it is generally recognised that the act of giving enhances your own wellbeing and sense of purpose. It could be volunteering, tutoring, a donation, or even just caring for your pet.
5. Having a plan in place – it’s true that we can’t predict the twists and turns of our lives. However, we can be prepared for them. In a moment of crisis or tragedy, knowing that plans are already in place and that it’s been taken care of in advance can be a huge and much-needed relief.
There are many different ways to handle and manage stress, and the perfect solution will look different for everybody. But one thing is sure – certainty and robust plans are excellent stress-busters.
At Fortitude, we want to help you get the most out of your money and out of life. If you’d like to start planning for your future in retirement and beyond, we’d be more than happy to help. Give us a call on 01327 354321 to book an initial chat to find out how we can help.