Making sense of stress

PUBLISHED: December 21, 2015 at The New Times

Stress is a word that is used frequently in our daily life. However, have you ever stopped to consider what stress physiologically actually is? The scientific research on stress is very complicated. However, to put it simply, stress is our brain-body’s response to the perceptions (our interpretations) of what is going on in our environment. This interpretation of our environment is complicated and is based on what is happening ‘right now’ or Ubu a word we like to use. Even to say the word Ubu is calming. Your interpretation of what is happening in your environment is heavily influenced by what has happened to you in the past and what you have learned to do from those experiences.

For instance, if you are riding a bike or driving a car, or walking on the side of the road and someone in a car or motorbike almost hits you, your brain-body automatically responds due to your perception and interpretation of a threat in your environment. The stress hormones instantly respond with no thought, sending out messages that you need to pay attention to what is happening and take action for your safety. You may notice after the danger passes that your hands or legs are shaking, your breathing may be rapid, your heart is racing and that your mouth is feeling dry. This is from adrenaline and other stress hormones that have just helped you take action and focus. Next time you have an experience such as this, notice how long it takes your brain-body to regulate your stress response and return to what we call Gap of Calm. It can take a while for this to happen.

We use the combined words brain-body to emphasise that the brain and body are partners and make an incredible team. Our brain is not able to survive without the body and the body cannot survive without the brain. It is not that stress is bad or good. It is the accumulation of stress and how we deal with it that can cause health problems over our lifetime. Pressure and demands from the long list of things we are doing with work, school, family and relationships can cause an accumulation of stress with no rest until we manage to realise that now, this moment, is not stressful.

Changes in health from stress may be hard to notice. We may not even associate our health problems as being influenced by our stress response.

Jean Pierre Ndagijimana is the founder/director Talk Recovery Training-Rwanda