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Many of us feel stressed so often that we don’t realize what it’s doing to us. The fact is that stress is a mind-body response that not only triggers food-seeking to de-stress but may also cause all sorts of major physical and mental damage.
According to Dana Sparks in Chronic stress can wreak havoc on your mind and body, stress is a way of protecting us from bodily harm and other threats. Ironically, in this day and age, we are more likely to be harmed by the stress itself. Our bodies evolved the stress response when we lived in a time of near constant peril and we still use it, though most of our lives are not fraught with danger lurking around every corner.
Says Sparks, when you encounter a perceived threat, “your hypothalamus, a tiny region at your brain’s base, sets off an alarm system in your body. Through a combination of nerve and hormonal signals, it forms a “natural alarm system [that] also communicates with the brain regions that control mood, motivation and fear,” causing you to feel threatened and as if you’re under attack.
Our unique response to stress depends upon our genetics and life experiences and how they make us more or less reactive to perceived stress. Some folks are easily stressed and reactive to perception of a threat and others look at them as challenges. If you grew up in an household in which there were multiple, frequent stresses, your mind/body will react differently than if you grew up in a stable, calm one.
Some people react as if everything in life causes them stress: the air-conditioner breaking on a sizzler of a day bothers them as much as finding out that their sister had a near-fatal heart attack. Having a friend cancel dinner plans last minute seems as awful as losing a job. Sitting in traffic on the way to an appointment makes them as angry as finding out that they’re going to be evicted because their apartment building is being demolished.
It's up to us to both distinguish real from perceived threats and to learn to manage both. Does everything really need to be a 10 on the stress meter: forgetting to pick up your dry cleaning, getting lost on the way to your cousin’s house, going to the movies only to find the movie’s no longer playing there, having your car in the shop for a few days, or finding that the supermarket is out of your favorite ice cream. It’s time to start viewing life as full of things that go wrong, but don’t impact our health and safety. Save your stress response for the things that really matter and are a bona fide threat to your life.
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