Physiological responses to stress and developing techniques to counter stress responses

Life can throw lots of stressful situations at you; some are environmental, and some are psychological. These stresses may release stress hormones that can produce physiological responses; these can include heart pounding, breathing quickly, muscle tension, and sweating. These responses are designed to keep us safe to run or fight if we are in danger, however in a modern world these responses can go into overdrive and overreact to stressors that are not life-threatening.

You would have heard of this as a ‘fight or flight’ response. Over the years, researchers have looked at why these reactions occur and have gained insight into the long term effects of chronic stress on individuals. Over time, long-term stress takes a toll on the body, and may lead to high blood pressure, formation of artery-clogging deposits, and may cause brain changes that may contribute to anxiety and depression. Stress may also contribute to obesity (both through causing people to eat too much or by contributing to decreased sleep and exercise).

The good news is we can learn techniques to help us reduce the stress response.

Using Relaxation Techniques people can elicit a relaxation response, these techniques include deep breathing, visualisation, repetitive soothing words, and yoga.

Physical activity – people can use exercise to reduce their physical symptoms of stress. These include going for a walk and breathing deeply can help reduce muscle tension. Movement such as yoga and tai chi and stretches using fluid movements, focus and deep breathing can induce a sense of calm.

Social support – talking to friends, family, colleagues – creates a sense of connectedness and has been shown to reduce symptoms of chronic stress. 

Medical support – if you feel like your stress symptoms are becoming constant, please visit your GP to access a mental health plan or supports specific to your needs.