‘I’m so stressed…’
Essay due tomorrow?
Whatever it may be, everyone has been stressed.
As a student, I understand the world of stress: I may have an excessively long homework due the next day that I haven’t started, or a meeting with a friend that I haven’t seen in a while – even right now, writing up this blog post that I should be posting before the end of the day! All of these things and more cause me to feel stressed. It makes my heart race, my breathing becomes heavy and my muscles tense. Here’s how it works…
First, an almond shaped group of neurones sitting deep on each side of your brain evaluates the stressful situation at hand (this is called the amygdala and it is responsible for our emotions). Afterwards, the hypothalamus links the neurones and endocrine systems through the secretion of hormones from the pituitary and adrenal glands causing a response…
Our adrenal glands release hormones such as adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol -these make us feel the way we do when we’re stressed as it triggers our ‘fight or flight’ mechanism. You may get ‘butterflies’; that feeling in your stomach as if all your intestines are swirling around – that is literally your body slowing down, or even stopping digestion completely to focus all of your energy into ‘fighting’ or ‘running’ from your stressful situation. You may get a headache – this is caused by the muscles in your head, neck and shoulders tightening up. What might shock you is that the hormones released when you’re stressed can actually lead to much worse things than the short term feelings that you get. For example, the liver releases glucose to fuel respiration so we can ‘fight or flight’ in our situation; if you are stressed too often and the stress is caused by something more psychological than physical which doesn’t require you to use the glucose released, it can actually lead to diabetes! In addition to this, the hormones released aren’t good for the heart and can horrifyingly lead to high blood pressure, heart attacks or even stroke.
At the end of this intense system, is the hippocampus, a seahorse shaped structure responsible for emotions and memory formation, and the frontal cortex involved in decision making and executive function – these put the stress cycle to an end.
Honestly, why do we even get stressed? Why does this system exist? Imagine how great a world without stress would be! The thing is, this stress system used to be very useful for us humans: it’s main purpose was for situations such as running away from a predator (or fighting them – if you’re brave!). But now, the system is much less for physical purposes, but much more psychological – this is something I want to stress. Stress is real. Mental illness is real. Just because you’re doing something as simple as meeting an old friend and the collection of feelings that come with stress hit you, doesn’t mean you’re ‘weak’ or ‘whiny’. Stress is a real thing and if you overdo yourself and convince yourself you’re being weak, you can stress yourself out more! If you stress out too often, it can lead to chronic stress; heavy amounts of stress can lead to post traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety and cognitive disorders. This is why the way you treat stress is important!
One of the most common ways to treat stress is exercise. When you exercise, your body releases endorphins. These interact with the receptors in the brain to reduce our perception of pain and trigger a positive feeling in the body. Plus, it’s winter, and you know what they say ‘summer bodies are made in winter’! Don’t think this means that you have to exercise for hours on end to get rid of your stress, just half an hour a day is fine!
Another highly recommended way to deal with stress is meditation. I recently read an article by Dr Enikő Zsoldos (psychologist and postdoctoral researcher in the Neurobiology of Ageing group, Department of Psychiatry) about a type of meditation called ‘Mindfulness’, a type of meditation originating from Buddhist traditions (I’ll put the link to the article at the bottom of this article). The aim of meditation is relaxation, self awareness and reach freedom from despair and sorrow. In mindfulness, you sit still and focus on one thing and if a distraction arises, you embrace it without trying to change it – very metaphorical but it is just accepting the present without thinking of the future or past – thus relieving panic and stress.
Stress is such a common problem in our modern world to the point that there are even apps made for the purpose of helping with stress! Whilst I haven’t tried any of these and some of them are still being tested in the NHS, I will leave a link to a list of apps at the end of this. If you’re the type to put all your reminders on your phone, all the important dates etc. then I would try them out!
These things may not work for everyone, it may be that you can’t get into them or feel like you don’t have the time to do these things, and I completely understand. But the most important thing is to try! And also try to have a positive mind about stress, don’t brush it away but think ‘I should focus’, ‘I need to get this done’ – if I was never stressed, I would never finish any of my homework nor complete any of my tasks to a high standard! And have you ever gotten butterflies in your stomach when you see something that makes you happy? Like someone you like or food! We would never get that without the stress response! The ‘fight or flight’ mechanism was made to help us, so we should use it to our advantage!
If nothing seems to work and you can’t deal with the stress alone, know that you don’t need to deal with the stress by yourself! You can tell someone, be it a close friend, or a teacher. For example, students, if you’re stressed because your homework is piling up and you have no idea how to manage your time, tell a trusted teacher. But if you really can’t get yourself out of the cycle of stress, consult your GP.
Written by Antonia Jayme
• How stress works
• Mindfulness meditation
• NHS list of apps to manage and improve health