Do you think that you thrive under stress? That you perform better under pressure?
Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, dear reader, but after the initial adrenaline rush that lasts about 20 min, stress actually makes us stupid.
Let me explain.
The stress response releases adrenaline into our bloodstream, which gives us a boost of energy. This is designed to help us to either fight our stressor or run from it (fight or flight response).
Once we escape the stress, our body returns to homeostasis.
The problem is that we never get away from our stress.
We’re no longer being chased by a proverbial tiger. Instead, we’re chased by emails, project deadlines, demanding clients, angry bosses, bills to pay as well as any emotional conflict we have in our personal lives.
This is the reason we’re chronically stressed – we can never get away from our stressors which means our nervous system stays in the fight or flight response. Once the initial adrenaline rush wears off, we’re left with a surge in another stress hormone: cortisol.
Cortisol has the following effects on our body:
- Muscle tension
- Suppressed immunity/ exacerbates existing illnesses.
- Digestive issues
- Reproductive issues
- Increased blood pressure
- Increased fat storage/difficulty losing weight.
But even more shocking is the effect of high levels of cortisol on the brain:
- Kills brain cells
- Shrinks the prefrontal cortex responsible for memory, learning and clear, calm thinking
- Increases the amygdala (the fear centre of the brain) leading to more frequent anxiety.
To summarise: stress makes us stupid, shrinks our brain and makes us more anxious!
So we really are kidding ourselves when we think we thrive under stress.
Relaxation only happens when we move out of the sympathetic nervous system response (fight or flight), and we activate the parasympathetic nervous system (relaxation response). So while a glass of wine or a bubble bath might feel good, if it doesn’t activate the parasympathetic nervous system, it’s not technically relaxing us.
So as 2020 draws to a close remember that being relaxed and calm makes us better at EVERYTHING:
- We sleep better
- We eat better
- We think better
- We feel better
- We’re more creative
- We make better decisions.
Check out this Yoga for Anxiety page that’s packed with resources on how you can better manage stress.