What is stress?
According to the most widespread understanding, stress is an increased physical and mental tension that can be harmful to health in the long term. Nevertheless, stress is substantial for survival.
When we feel stress, our body releases stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, which we need for the so-called “fight and flight” reactions. Blood pressure and pulse rise, muscle tone increases, our senses sharpen and the digestive system shuts down. Our body releases sugar, giving us extra energy. Respiratory tracts widen to supply our organs with more oxygen – we breathe faster and shallower. Our body functions are thus in high-level mode, and we are prepared for increased demands – We are ready for the approaching danger. At this moment, our accelerator pedal, the sympathetic nervous system, is working at full speed – it is part of our autonomic nervous system and activates our bodily functions. When the stressful situation is over, our stress hormones break down and our brake pedal, the parasympathetic nervous system as another part of the autonomic nervous system, is activated. Pulse and blood pressure are lowered, our digestion is activated, and we are able to think clearly again. In summary, stress is a natural bodily reaction to physical and mental strain, which ensures that we are more efficient in the short term.
What happens when our body is under constant stress?
In this case, the sympathetic nervous system, the accelerator pedal of our autonomic nervous system, is permanently active – our body acts at full throttle. The parasympathetic nervous system, our brake pedal of the autonomic nervous system, only plays a subordinate role. The negative consequences: We can no longer rest, cannot recover, sleep badly, and become ill in the long run. Our autonomic nervous system is therefore not in balance. Increasingly, we experience symptoms of exhaustion, fatigue, loss of appetite, loss of energy and pain. In the worst case, we speak of burnout.
What causes stress?
Stress can be triggered by a wide variety of factors. In addition to physical causes such as pain, psychosocial factors are often triggers for stress, for example:
- The lack of a sense of well-being
- Pressure to perform
- Double workloads such as job and family
- Continuous accessibility
- Unhealthy diet
- Lack of exercise
- Little rest in stressful everyday life
- High expectations of oneself
- and much more.
Every person reacts differently to stress. Some people rarely feel stressed, while others lose their balance easily. Individual experiences, emotions and learned behaviour patterns are responsible for this. Through the various sensory perceptions, different stimuli from the environment are perceived and processed in the brain. Depending on the accumulated experience, the stimuli are thus classified as positive, neutral, or negative. A stress stimulus represents a negatively evaluated stimulus. This negative stimulus can be triggered both physically by pain and psychologically by sounds, thoughts, or the like. It triggers a wide variety of biochemical reactions in our body, which ultimately lead to the release of stress hormones.
Is stress measurable?
Stress can be measured in many ways. For example, measurements of heart-rate variability (HRV), skin conductance or cortisol levels provide information on how the human body reacts to and deals with stress. These measurements provide a good basis for tailoring effective stress management methods to the needs of the individual. We also use various measurement methods in our seminars to help our participants understand what stress is and how it works.
Heart-rate variability measurement (HRV measurement) is a non-invasive method that reflects the individual stress load as well as the body’s ability to adapt and regulate (ability to recover). It provides conclusions about a person’s state of health. When measuring HRV, the intervals between individual heartbeats are measured. While psychologically stressful events reduce the HRV curve, relaxation and calmness improve it.
The skin conductance is directly linked to the body’s tension and relaxation and the skin’s moisture level. The person concerned cannot influence the result during the measurement, which means that a stress reaction in the body to conscious as well as unconscious stimuli can be directly observed and analysed. The measurement shows how well the person processes and regulates stress.
The stress hormone cortisol can be examined as part of a blood or saliva test. Cortisol is secreted in addition to other hormones during a physical stress reaction. In particular, chronic stress reactions and associated regulatory disorders in the body can be detected by a very high cortisol level. It should be noted, however, that the cortisol level fluctuates strongly and therefore several tests over the course of the day are necessary to be able to make a clear statement.
Subjective stress perception
Using a scientifically tested stress questionnaire, the personally perceived stress can be assessed by means of a self-assessment. Such a measurement of the subjectively perceived stress level can help to recognise warning signals at an early stage and to make the individual stress load clear. In most questionnaires, psychological stress is measured based on different topics (emotional perception, state of stress, coping mechanisms, tendency to be ill, consequences of stress).
What are the best relaxation methods for stress?
Stress can hardly be avoided in today’s world. It is therefore even more important to learn the right way to deal with stress and to know how stress can be effectively reduced. A small selection of measures for dealing with stress shows how diverse the methods can be:
Bewegung und Sport
Entspannungsmethoden wie Meditation, autogenes Training oder Progressive Muskelentspannung
- Exercise and sports
- Relaxation methods such as meditation, autogenic training, or progressive muscle relaxation
- Heart-rate variability training (HRV)
- Confronting your inner attitude
- Implementing time management methods
- Avoiding multitasking
As with almost everything, the same applies here: “Practice makes perfect”. Only regular sports, regular relaxation, regular HRV training promote stress resilience in the long term.
Would you like to learn more about stress management?
Then take part in our online seminar “Stress and pain management with Fascia- and Stress-ReleaZer®”.