From the time of the first human beings, anxiety has been with us. It’s part of our normal response to challenging situations. When our forefathers were confronted with a potentially dangerous situation, like facing a wild creature, the stress reaction would ready the body for ‘fight or flight’.
Stress chemicals (such as cortisol and adrenaline ) would be released, leading to changes such as an increase of blood glucose for immediate energy, blood being diverted from digestive tract and skin to’feed’ the muscles, quicker and shallower breathing to increase oxygen consumption. Once the situation was resolved, the body would go back to normal. The stress response was, for ancient man, a life saver!
The human stress response hasn’t changed since the period of primitive man. However, the situations that trigger anxiety have changed a good deal. The physiological changes caused by stress may still be a positive event in scenarios that may be solved within a reasonable timescale. An example of this may be an athlete preparing for a race or an actor preparing for a stage production. In cases such as these, heightened arousal made by stress can enhance performance.
We’ve probably all experienced situations, where the additional advantage of rivalry or a deadline has been the motivation we’ve needed for successful action. In such cases also, the physiological changes can be stepped down after the situation stimulating the strain was resolved. The issue with anxiety occurs when the situation producing the stress can’t be solved within a reasonable period of time.
Remember, nature designed the stress response for immediate actions, either to take care of the situation or to remove ourselves from it (‘fight or flight’). When this doesn’t occur, the prolonged exposure to the stress chemicals and the changes they create begin to become harmful. It will become chemical warfare within our own bodies and repetitive exposure to excessive and unresolved stress may result in weakening of the immune system, nervous and physical exhaustion, illness and in extreme cases, death.
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As stated before, how our bodies react to stress hasn’t changed since ancient man, but the situations that cause us anxiety can be quite different. Most of us no longer need to worry about hunting meals or escaping from wild animals, but the high pressure and fast pace of modern living has brought with it many more insidious anxieties, which always invade our own life. These stresses, can differ from constantly needing to fulfill work associated goals and unrealistic deadlines to being stuck in a traffic jam.
A whole lot of these scenarios, especially if gathered over time, can keep your body bombarded with anxiety chemicals for much longer than nature intended. Unless we find ways to manage this, the outcome, as outlined previously, is a deterioration in health. So what can we do about this? Well first of all, we will need to comprehend that anxiety in focussed situations can be positive, but excessive or prolonged stress is damaging to our health. We will need to construct time into our hectic lifestyles to include activities which allow our bodies to relax, unwind and flush out excess stress chemicals.
These activities will vary based on the person and may include spending time with your loved ones, exercise, reading a novel, after a hobby, or just simply taking a’chill out’ break to talk to friends. Anything that gives your body and mind a break. Employers also have a responsibility to help employees manage their work related stress and should take this quite seriously since, other than the cost to the person, it’s been estimated that in America alone, the stress-related yearly cost to industry through lack, health costs, insurance and reduced productivity runs into billions of dollars.
Additionally, it has been demonstrated that anxiety reactions rise when people perceive themselves to be in a situation where they don’t have any control or input. Good channels of communication and mechanisms whereby workers can be consulted on issues which affect them are therefore critical in creating a healthy working environment. There are quite a few other issues which may have an effect on management of anxiety levels, such as diet, time management, environment, and so on, but these are the topic of another report. The thrust of this guide is to point out that the stress response can be positive when confronted with a focussed challenge, but harmful when it becomes prolonged or excessive. It’s in everybody’s interest, including companies, to make certain that stress doesn’t become a destructive element.