It is a simple fact that stress is a part of our everyday lives. Some stress is ok like the stress you feel when the alarm clock rings and you have to rush to get ready for school. Stress helps you perform, study, prepare breakfast, and get out of the way of harm.
So the real issue is not stress itself….but how much stress you have in your life and how you manage it.
We have all learned ways to manage our stress but most of the time our methods don’t help. They just make it worse. We try to push thoughts about things we need to do out of our heads. We try to rest. We try to forget about things. We try not to think about that event tomorrow. We try to get rid of stress by eating too much or by being angry or grouchy or by avoiding certain people or things. We don’t appreciate the good things. Everything is negative. We get a cold or flu; our head aches; we get a stiff neck; our whole body starts to hurt.
Stress can be a killer….
Stress can kill our training efforts, our practice sessions, our competition, our grades, our friendships, our bodies, our futures. Stress saps our energy. We are exhausted all the time.
If you think about it, you always know when you are stressed. Your body feels different – tight, sore, out of sorts. Everything becomes an effort. You begin to “trash talk” to yourself. You are not happy.
The Stress Response
These body changes are universal for all people who are stressed. This is called the “flight-or-fight” response. The physical responses to stress prepare you to run away from an enemy or stay and fight it. This “flight-or-fight” response helps you get ready do deal with what you perceive as a threat…like the coach yelling at you or the boss wanting stuff done NOW.
There’s a problem with all this. Your body and mind have no idea what the threat is. It could be a bear running after you or it could be that you are late for practice. So your body prepares you for any response. Here’s what happens in a matter of seconds:
Your heart pumps faster to get more blood to your muscles.
Your blood pressure is elevated as your arteries narrow and your heart beats faster
Your breathing becomes faster to move more oxygen to your blood
Your muscles tense up to get ready for action. You may feel a muscle spasm
Your digestion stops so more blood is available for your brain and muscles
You sweat more to cool off your body
Your pupils get bigger and your sense of smell and hearing become stronger
Your immune system, which protects you from infection, becomes compromised
This stress response affects you on all levels – emotionally, intellectually, spiritually, physically. Decisions you may make while stress may not be the most appropriate.
Stress can be divided into two categories.
Type 1 Stress
Type 1 Stress occurs when the source of the stress is immediate and identifiable and can be resolved in a very short time. An example of Type I stress would be if you were mountain climbing and lost your footing. Your body goes into immediate Type 1 stress and you get your footing back and begin to relax. This type of stress may also be pleasurable as when you are skiing downhill at a very fast pace.
Type 2 Stress
Type 2 Stress is long-term stress. This type of stress occurs when the source of your stress is unclear, less immediate, and sometimes not even recognizable. This is the kind of stress most of us experience. This is not good stress. An example of Type 2 stress would be trying to deal with an athletic injury or worrying that you may fail an exam at school or that you may never get into the college you desire.
Type 2 stress can lead to all kinds of physical as well as psychological symptoms. Some symptoms include:
An increase in muscle tension can result in muscle tightness, back pain and/or chronic headache.
Changes in breathing can result in shortness of breath or rapid, shallow breathing
An increased heart beat can lead to rapid heart beat, a scary situation
Increased brain activity can lead to anxiety, a lack of focus, racing thoughts, and depression
A disruption of your digestive system can lead to ulcers and intestinal problems
A weakened immune system can lead to increased risk of infections, colds, flu and will slow down your body’s ability to recover.
More on stress in follow up posts