What actually happens when we are stressed?
Each of us has an instinctual response for self protection called the fight or flight or stress response. When we experience a situation we perceive to be harmful or threatening to our self, our brain feels the anxiety and fear and activates the stress response.
The stress response provided our early ancestors the added energy and strength to fight or flee wild animals in order to survive a hostile environment. Today, however, we know through recent research, that this automatic response is being turned on not only by real threats, but also by imagined fears. The brain illogically can create its own feelings of danger unrelated to actual situations.
The Fear “Trigger”
Basically if we fear any aspect of our lifestyle is threatened, our brain feels this sense of fear, anxiety or apprehension and triggers the stress response. Feelings like we might lose our job, or lose a loved one and end up alone, or suffer some catastrophic health or financial problem can turn on the stress response. It can also be activated by our reactions to bosses, office politics, endless deadlines, unpaid bills, snarled traffic, and the diverse demands of our families.
What happens when the stress response gets triggered? Our body goes on alert status; it’s like a 911 call. Since the stress response is our basic survival mechanism, when it gets triggered, it overrides all other systems of the body. It virtually transforms and affects change in all major organ systems to provide us with quick energy.
What happens when stress responses get triggered?
- Our senses become increasingly alert to the threat of potential danger.
- Adrenaline and cortisol, the stress hormones, flood our bloodstream to increase the body’s metabolism and overcome the effects of fatigue.
- Breathing becomes shallow as it speeds up to supply increased oxygen to our muscles.
- Heart rate and blood pressure are increased to rush blood to our arms and legs.
- Sugars, fats and cholesterol from the liver are converted into fuel for quick energy.
- Saliva dries up and the digestion and elimination systems are stopped so blood can be directed away from our internal organs to our muscles and brain.
- Muscles become tense ready for action.
- Perspiration cools the body allowing it to bum more energy.
- Blood clotting mechanisms are activated to protect us from blood loss in case of injury.
- The immune system’s efficiency is suppressed.
- The sleep process is blocked.
Better Sleep Reduces Stress
We are often asked the questions: Do I have stress because I don’t sleep well? Or do I not sleep well because I have stress? The answer is yes to both of these questions. The stress we feel and how well we sleep are interrelated. Stress is the number one cause of sleep problems, and ineffective sleep is a major cause of increased stress. Quanta Dynamics helps you understand about optimum sleep and makes suggestions on how to best deal with your stress and sleep problems.
What is Optimum Sleep?
We define Optimum Sleep in two ways – the number of hours we sleep and the quality of our sleep. Sleep research indicates that as we grow we need the following continuous hours of sleep:
|1 – 2 years||:||14 – 15 hours|
|3 – 5 years||:||10 – 12 hours|
|10 years||:||10 hours|
|12 – 18 years||:||9 hours|
|19 – 65 years||:||8 hours|
|65+ years||:||7 – 8 hours|
Quality sleep means optimizing the diverse and complex sleep process, which includes two sleep states: REM (rapid eye movement) and NREM (non-rapid eye movement). Individuals should receive periods of deep, restorative NREM sleep, and four to five cycles of REM sleep. Deep sleep plays a major role in maintaining general health, and REM sleep affects our moods, performance and behavior by processing learning and memory and resolving emotional distress.
Symptoms of Sleep and Stress Problems
The following are common symptoms of poor sleep. If you’re experiencing these symptoms on a regular basis, your sleep is showing the effects of stress. If you:
- Have trouble going to sleep and take longer than 10-15 minutes.
- Fall asleep as soon as your head hits the pillow.
- Wake up frequently during sleep.
- Wake up during sleep and can’t fall back to sleep.
- Sleep lightly and have trouble relaxing as you sleep.
- Wake up feeling tired.
- Wake up feeling aches and pains.
- Wake up feeling emotionally down.
- Wake up feeling tense and can’t seem to calm down.
- Sleep less than 6 hours or more than 9 hours.
How Stress Impacts Sleep
Sleep should be a natural process but it’s a problem for many of us. What’s causing us not to sleep? Generally, if you have sleep problems, your stress response is being activated by feelings of fear or anxiousness. For example, you or a loved one may be having a health problem, there are difficulties at work, you may be having a relationship problem with family or friends, or you may be having financial difficulties. Your brain senses these anxious feelings that go to bed with you, it activates the stress response and causes adrenaline to be released into your system, which prevents your natural sleep cycle from working effectively. The stress response and the sleep response are opposite reactions in the body.
Research shows that sleep problems can be caused by unpleasant memories experienced as a child that get connected to sleep, or any significant event in your past such as the death of a loved one, illness, or divorce. You may know the time when your sleep problems started, but since that occurrence you’ve not slept well, and you’ve been unable to enjoy the benefits of quality sleep. If you’ve experienced ineffective sleep longer than a two-week period, experts agree you have a sleep problem that requires help.
How to Get better Sleep
It’s frustrating to feel stressed all the time, and it is even worse when we go to bed stressed and can’t get quality sleep. I know how you feel because I’ve experienced the same problems. The good news — help is available. To understand why you’re feeling stressed, I’d like to outline the profile of a stress-prone person, then suggest ideas to help you feel better.
- Do you feel stressed most of the time?
- Are you less productive in your work?
- Are you having difficulty sleeping and waking up tired?
Who are stress-prone persons?
Basically, we’re driven, competitive, work-oriented individuals who feel rushed much of the time and have a strong need to prove ourselves. We carry much internal conflict which often creates physical and emotional problems and seldom allows contentment and peacefulness. We’re reluctant to make changes; however, even though we may not feel good much of the time we desire to live a more balanced lifestyle. The conflict arises when today’s society encourages and rewards us for being high-achieving, competitive and results-oriented people. Profile of a Stress-Prone Person
Consider the following more in-depth profile and use it as a guide. It should give you clues as to why you often feel stressed. You may not have excessive tendencies in every category, but probably exhibit intense behavior in one or more categories.
Desire accomplishment and achievement
Our strong need to achieve drives us to excel. We become involved in many projects and deadlines and have a tendency to overextend ourselves. Our strong need for accomplishment compels us to volunteer for many charitable and civic activities. Unfortunately, we direct our energy in several directions with fragmented results.
Are highly competitive and need to win
Because we’re highly competitive, if we don’t win in business or social activities, we become agitated and unhappy. Winning often becomes an end in itself, and it goes beyond healthy competition to compulsivity. Almost everything becomes a challenge or a competitive match. On the inside though we constantly compare ourselves with others, which creates a sense of restlessness and discontentment.
Lead rushed lives
We feel there is an urgency about life and there is never enough time to get everything done. We have a tendency to over-plan days with activities and self imposed deadlines. We try to accomplish more in less time. Our intense inner drive leaves little time for family or friends. We dislike delays and interruptions and hate to wait in line. While driving a car we become impatient and very frustrated if the car in front of us is moving too slowly. We might even tailgate while pressuring the driver to go faster!
Workaholic is the term often used to describe us. We work long hours. A sixty hour work week is not unusual. We push ourselves hard to get things done and it makes us feel good to have others see how hard we work. We constantly focus on thinking and talking about our work or things that interest us. We often take work home, and there is little or no time in our life for anything else.
Desire possessions and recognition
We constantly desire to be recognized and much of our motivation for getting involved with work related projects is to receive recognition. Feeling good is based on outward achievements rather than from feeling good inside about ourselves. W hen we don’t receive adequate acknowledgement for our efforts, we can become hurt, even hostile and angry. We show a strong need to acquire material wealth and possessions as proof of success. We judge our self worth by our net worth.
Appear competent and confident
On the outside we usually appear calm and seem to “have it all together”. We look confident and self assured, but inside we often feel tense and insecure. We may be well organized and in control, but frequently overreact to change because it makes us feel out of control.
Set high standards for ourselves
We set high standards for ourselves that are not always reasonable. We can be overly critical of ourselves and others. Prevalent feelings may be we are never good enough or can never measure up to how “we” feel we should be. When things don’t go well we become very stressed and are likely to suffer from anxiety and depression.
Have difficulty enjoying life
We find it difficult to relax without feeling guilty. Getting things done is more important. We can neglect our own personal needs, such as eating properly, getting adequate exercise and sleep and taking time for fun and recreation. We have few hobbies and rarely spend time doing something purely for enjoyment. We wouldn’t know how to relax! We may have difficulty with relationships, because we’re so task oriented we don’t know how to relate well with others.
After reading this profile, do you consider yourself a stress-prone person? Do you see yourself in any of the categories? Which ones? If you do see categories where you exhibit excessive tendencies, are you willing to make changes? Could your life be happier and more satisfying? Is the choice to change worth it to you and others? Who are you hurting if you don’t make changes? You truly have to want to make lifestyle changes to lower your stress levels. We know that pills won’t solve the problem.
Positive Suggestions About Feeling Better
- Slow down and take time to relax; it’s important for your health. Your body is not designed to be in high gear all the time.
- Spend some time thinking how you can improve your life and make it more satisfying. Start out with a simple plan noting areas where you can make changes.
- Work fewer hours, if possible. When you leave the office, leave your work and office problems behind.
- Spend more time with family and friends. Be open to new friendships. Positive relationships are important support systems for you.
- Exercise regularly, even if is just taking a daily 20 minute walk. Exercise is an important stress reducer. Not only does it help you feel better physically, but mentally and emotionally as well.
- Strive to be more self accepting and accepting of others. Realize none of us is perfect.
- Read a good book about sleep, if sleep is a problem.
- Take time to wind down and be quiet before you go to bed. Don’t work in bed. Rather than being work-involved, you need to be relaxed when it’s bedtime.
- Identify what may be worrying you and write about it in a journal before you go to bed.
- Cut down on cigarettes and the amount of caffeine you drink. Both are stimulants. Caffeine is found not only in coffee, but in tea, colas and chocolate.
- Make an effort to put more fun your life. Find things to do that you enjoy. When we can laugh and have fun our whole outlook about life improves.