By Ben Smith, Lead Health Coach at Fitness Interactive Experience
We often think of stress as this nebulous phenomenon that comes in and out of our lives at various times, which we have very little control over. The truth is there are varying types of stress and you can learn how to manage them so that they have minimal impact on your life and daily routine. But before we can manage it, we need to clearly understand what IT is!
Physiological or biological stress is an organism’s response to an environmental condition or stimulus. One of the celebrated pioneers of stress research, Hans Selye, divided stress into positive and negative classifications. Positive stress was known as eustress and negative stress was known as distress.
How the Body Copes With Stress
The human body strives to maintain equilibrium, or in biological terms, homeostasis. If a psychological or physical stressor disrupts your internal equilibrium, your body will utilize whatever means necessary, via your nervous, endocrine and immune systems, to get everything back under control.
One way to do this is with the help of the autonomic nervous system. Your autonomic nervous system controls the stuff that your body does automatically that you don’t have to think about, like breathing, digestion and thermoregulation. The autonomic nervous system has two levers: the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system.
The parasympathetic nervous system (i.e. “Poop!”) initiates the “rest and digest” or “feed and breed” response; think of it as the brakes. It’s the one that kicks in when your body is at rest.
If the body experiences an overwhelming dominance of either one of these systems, then homeostasis gets thrown out of whack. Ideally, they’re working with each other rather than against each other.
How to Use This Knowledge to Manage Stress
The key to managing stress is to know what to do when one of these systems is starting to dominate.
One of the best ways to cope with, or manage, stress is to demonstrate healthy behaviors in the cornerstones of good health: Daily Activity, Exercise, as well as Healthy Diet and Lifestyle choices.
Daily Activity and Exercise can serve as balance to an overly dominant parasympathetic (Poop!) state. They can also give you an opportunity to contemplate your key stressors and time to come to a viable solution.
Healthy Diet and Lifestyle choices help refuel your tank and can balance an overly dominant sympathetic (Stab stab stab!) state. You only have a finite amount of Adaptation Reserve available; think of that as your gas tank. If you aren’t eating right and sleeping right, your tank gets smaller and smaller, and eventually the question of “For here or to go?” may cause an existential crisis.
Don’t let that happen to YOU.
Prioritize your health and you’ll find that you’re in a much better position to win the game against STRESS!