We hear it all the time: People complaining that they are stressed out, attributing all sorts of health problems to stress. It’s a myth. Stress is not the problem – lack of rejuvenation is.
Stress hormones flooding our system are crucial to our survival instincts. Let’s just go back thousands of years to our ancestral past. Uma the hunter is out in the jungle following the tracks of an antelope that he hopes to bring home to his clan living in a cave nearby.
Then a huge tiger blocks his path. Uma freezes. Within a split second the hypothalamus in the brain sends a message to the adrenal glands on the kidneys that instantly floods the body with the stress hormone adrenaline.
Adrenaline binds to receptors on the heart, arteries, pancreas, liver, muscles and fatty tissue. In effect adrenaline increases heart rate and respiration, and by binding to receptors on the pancreas, liver, muscles and fatty tissue, it inhibits the production of insulin and stimulates the synthesis of sugar and fat, which the body can use as extra energy.
Uma needs to decide for his own survival: Do I head for the nearest tree or fight the tiger?
Stress hormones enable us to focus all our energies and mental capacities to that one task that needs to be addressed. Whether the threat is real or imagined the body reaction is the same. Singers or speakers know this body reaction as stage fright, moments prior to their act. But when it comes to the actual show, they deliver a starring performance with nobody in the audience having had an inkling of what the performer went through.
Adrenaline and other stress hormones start becoming a problem when the imagined threat is more or less a permanent condition. The constant pressure on arteries weakens the heart muscle eventually leading to heart failure or a heart attack. It can also impair the brain’s memory function and weaken the kidneys. Vital nutrients are extracted from the body to feed the constant adrenaline rush, eventually leading to chronic fatigue or even skeletal problems.
Our stressful modern lives have us more or less constantly facing the tiger. After Uma frightens away the tiger with his spear, he even manages to bring home the antelope for dinner. All the hormones fall back to normal after he has had sumptuous meal and the clan has celebrated him as a hero around the fire.
Stress becomes a problem where there is no longer a balance between activity and recuperation. Even in so-called recuperation periods we often tend to go for strenuous exercise routines that don’t really bring down our stress hormone levels. So what calms the mind and body most effectively?
Exercises that synchronize body and mind very effectively are those that calm your breathing and relax the entire muscular system from within. A daily meditation of between five and ten minutes is a good way to start. All the body arts such as yoga, qi gong or taiji have an enormously positive effect on the immune system. Even a gentle walk in the park where you concentrate on mindful breathing will bring down your stress levels.
Reino Gevers – Mentor for Leaders and Achievers – Your Health Matters
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