Stress: The Silent Killer & 7 Surprising Ways To Triumph

Stress: The Silent Killer & 7 Surprising Ways To Triumph

(a 8 minute read)

Stress, we all experience it, some of us to a greater extent than others depending on certain life situations or lifestyles in general. There is a variety of types of stress such as toxic stress, acute stress, episodic acute stress, chronic stress, the list continues.

However, in some scenarios mild stress can actually have positive impacts on concentration, efficiency and overall performance. Let’s take a workout routine for example:

If you train long-term and also find the time to train regularly, it is best to give 70% and slowly approach the 100%. After a while, drop off again and your new 70% is your previous 75%.
This whole routine is based on quality over quantity, therefore is also centered around shorter workouts. Optimal muscle building takes place at high intensity, so that adrenaline and testosterone are released in good quantities. As a result, the metabolism releases hormones due to stress and lets us perform better. Breathing in specific patterns enables us to control stress before a first date, exam, or at a public speaking event. We are more alert and find an easier way into the “flow state”.

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Stress, on a fundamental basis, has three causes:

  1. Uncertainty
  2. Loss of control
  3. Too little information

You could also add (emotional) isolation and conflict to the list as points four and five but we’ll continue mainly focusing on the three above.
Stress releases cortisol and adrenaline which attacks dopamine receptors and affects the whole nervous system and body. Oxytocin and vasopressin are sorts of the counterpart, you could say. They occur naturally in the mammalian body and play a role in pair bonding, orgasms, maternal bonding, group and anxiety behaviors, among others.

Prolonged stress has numerous adverse effects.
The Amygdala, a part of the brain responsible for a dual role with aggression as well as facets of fear and anxiety, becomes overactive and more strongly coupled to pathways of habitual behavior. It’s essentially easier to learn fear and harder to unlearn it. We process emotional information more quickly and automatically, but with less accuracy.
Frontal lobe functions — working memory, impulse control, decision making, risk assessment, and task shifting — are impaired, and the frontal cortex has less control over the amygdala. And we become less empathic and prosocial, so reducing constant stress is a benefit to us and those around us.

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Attachment theory states that a strong emotional and physical bond with a primary caregiver in our first years of life is critical to our development. Children with tendencies to the third type “Anxious/Disorganized” have a fundamentally false image of love and security, are afraid of help and avoid social interactions. Our attachment is formed in the first years of life, a time when we are still too young to communicate our fears, and as a result, one can experience high levels of stress. Then our adrenal glands — an organ that sits above our kidneys — produce the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol.

Heart rate increases, blood pressure rises, and we become alert.

When this happens frequently, it’s called toxic stress. Toxic because it affects the development of the child’s brain, and weakens the immune system. In embryos or at a very young age, toxic stress can even alter the expression of genes, which can affect our health many decades later.

If women suffer stress during pregnancy, it will affect the child. These were remarkable findings among pregnant women traumatized by the 9/11/2001 attacks on the World Trade Center.
Too high cortisol levels are transmitted via the placenta, so the child has a chance to be more susceptible to stress, anxiety and ADHD. Furthermore, fewer dopamine receptors lead to higher sensitivity to drugs.

So as you can see stress and mental disorders go hand in hand and it’s no wonder 1 in 7 people suffer either from one or more mental or substance use disorders.



How Do I Deal With My Stress?

The problem is not the stress itself, but the lack of rest. We’ve just seen how many factors play a role in us being stressed and with the complexity of our 86 Billion Neurons firing bazillion signals per second, it’s inevitable to not experience it. Find the root cause of why you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed, analyze possible solutions and take action.

First and foremost, eat healthily and get a good amount of exercise on a regular basis. Stress has a negative effect on the gut microbiome. The intestine communicates with the brain and the brain constantly communicates with the intestine. They form a biological circuit. It is bidirectional.

Writing down reduces existential insecurity (there is no simpler way to express it), reduces anxiety, improves mental health and the immune system.
All these effects seem to be related to a general decrease in stress-induced by high complexity and the hormones produced in connection with it — which, in excess, are harmful.
Students who wrote about the worst events of their lives for three consecutive days initially experienced a drop in mood (no doubt caused by the reliving of memories), but over the following months experienced a marked improvement in their condition.

Avoid easy satisfaction like eating junk food, going shopping or smoking a cigarette. This reduces the ability to make logical decisions.
When you go shopping and see expensive prices, the activity in the part of the brain for rational thinking almost sinks to 0 while the emotional part is firing signals like there’s no tomorrow.

Another important element is an intense engagement with a subject matter.
This can be a text, a work of art or even nature itself. Study new topics and dive into the endless depths of the internet to distract yourself from the daily stress-inducing factors that keep you up at night.
Taking breaks is important if you’re studying for an exam, but don’t start mindlessly browsing Instagram for a quick dopamine hit. Taking a walk or reading a novel are way better options to clear the mind.

As far as intellectual well-being is concerned, there are studies that show that people who are curious, show compassion and ask questions are not only happier but also live longer. The most important predictor of happiness is the time we spend with people we care about and who care about us.
Gather with a group of friends, have deep conversations and do some fun activities that hopefully declutter your mind a little from the usual stuff.

Taking the time to relax every day helps to manage stress and to protect the body from the effects of stress. You can choose from a variety of techniques, such as deep breathing, imagery, progressive muscle relaxation, and mindfulness meditation.
Get 8 hours of sleep every night and avoid bright light, big meals and heavy thinking before bedtime to really dive into that REM sleep. If you sleep 7 hours a day for 10 days, on the 10th day you are as efficient as someone who has been awake for 24 hours. It gets worse afterward.

And finally, don’t have strong opinions on everything. Make sure to have certain values set in stone and pursue them relentlessly, more or less neglect the rest (especially what you’ve got no control over). This is important to not get distracted in an ever-changing world. The more your actions reflect your beliefs, the better you will feel, no matter how busy your life is.


Some Final Words

Although stress is an unavoidable part of life, being in chronic stress takes a toll on your physical and mental health.

Sometimes, for example, when you find a new circle of friends or start a new job, you are under the impression that this ultimately has a positive effect on your life; and although this can of course be the case, it is difficult to know where the stress exactly comes from if you’re constantly overwhelmed.

Thrilling new encounters? The urge to get to know people better or meet exciting deadlines? Climbing the career path? You might perceive these routines as fun, but the fact is, you’re still rushing from appointment to appointment without taking time for yourself and clearing your head. Under such circumstances, it’s hard to make rational decisions and to say “no” once in a while, although that would probably be best for your well-being in the present and in the future.

Multitasking is a myth, especially when it comes to important life decisions you make on a daily. Take a step back and reevaluate your values and time management. Your brain needs rest, even if you don’t feel like it.

Try to remember that life ain’t as serious as the mind makes it out to be. The real value of life lies in the connections you establish and the purpose you tie to your actions.

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