Living a modern life today is almost synonymous for stress. There are innumerable situations that we get into which cause stress and which in turn takes the kind of toll on our physical and mental health that we don’t even realize. So why is stress so very bad for you?
Understand how stress works
To understand how stress works, we can take the simple example of a predator and his prey in the wild; say a deer and a tiger.
When the deer perceives that there is danger to her life in the form of the lurking tiger, all her energies, and resources become concentrated on fleeing the source of that danger. Her survival instinct comes to the fore.
As the deer perceives dangers, the stress hormone cortisol put her in that flight mode; that propels her to concentrate all her energies on flight.
Blood supply is withdrawn from the digestive tract and other systems, and is pumped straight to the heart and the muscles to best aid flight and the fight for survival.
How does this apply to our lives?
Life throws stress at us from myriad different quarters. There is stress at work, deadlines to meet, a demanding boss that wants the impossible, subordinates who are not pulling their weight etc.
There is stress on the home front: the kids need time and attention, chores need to be done, you are in debt and you are just about running out of steam! Things can just pile up and typically the stress response kicks in: you have trouble focusing and concentrating.
You too forget things and feel anxious frequently. Your decision making seems to be impaired. You are either having trouble deciding or seem to be making the wrong decisions. This is your body’s stress response; and it now seems to be affecting your brain!
Is the Stress Hormone Cortisol Bad?
Small amounts of stress or infrequent stress such as being in a dangerous or life threatening situation can enhance performance. It can make us thick clearly and act fast and precisely.
However, excessive stress and sustained, repeated stress is what is harmful. When we are more prone to stress our cortisol levels go up and stay elevated for longer. This is shown to be the cause for brain cell dysfunction.
It can actually be the cause of brain atrophy and the death of brain cells. The effects of long term stress are cumulative and will ultimately result in cognitive decline and even Alzheimer’s.
Common mental ailments such as different neuroses propensity to slip into depression are all connected to this.
For all these and several other reasons, it becomes vitally important to learn to reduce and deal with stress.