When we think of stress, we inevitably associate it with something negative. However, it is not bad; it generally helps us better face daily problems by putting our resources to use.
In other words, it is a natural process when we have excess demand compared to our tools. In these situations, our body is activated to generate more resources and meet those needs faster and better. So why do we think like this and see it as something evil? Antonio Cano, psychologist and spokesperson for the Official College of Psychologists of Madrid, explains that the reason is that when the body makes this overexertion, we do not leave it time to recover. “Staying active, doing things with a certain dynamics and acceleration can be positive if we rest afterwards. The problem is that our body and mind need to stop and recover after overexertion, and we don’t. Then adaptation problems begin to occur that imply failures of systems that previously worked well,” she warns.
On the other hand, it is essential to remember that although stress produces negative emotions (for example, when we believe we will obtain a negative result), it also creates positive emotions, such as joy or euphoria, when the goal has been achieved.
Today one of the most significant stressors we have are new technologies. Although they facilitate communication and integration with others and give us the possibility of working remotely, all of this increases demands even though we have the same amount of time. “Now we can do many more things, but we have to do them faster, we have to prioritize and often what we do wrong is reduce healthy habits, leisure time, rest and social relationships, which are very useful for health”, adds Cano.
What changes occur in our bodies?
If we go deeper into the impact that stress has on our body, we can see that it affects different spheres:
Changes in cognitive processes, in principle, are for the better. Cano describes that stress causes us, for example, to pay more attention to what surrounds us and to the tasks that we carry out; we can retrieve more information from memory or make decisions faster.
“Executive functions work better with a little stress, but when we are exhausted, the effect is reversed, and they are blocked,” he warns.
On a physical level
Just like cognitive processes, punctual stress could also have positive implications on a physical level. “Having to do things quickly means that we have to make an effort, that we have to increase muscular tension, that we have to perform more agile and faster behaviours, and that is good. It is like going to the gym, it is better to do the physical activity than not to have it, but if we are exhausted, and we intend to continue making overexertion, that will take its toll on us, so that some systems will be finished.
In this case, if we do not rest after the overexertion caused by a peak of stress, the consequences can affect our health: the immune system begins to fail, and infectious diseases can arise.
On the other hand, Cano points out that if stress causes us to postpone activities of our leisure time, prevention and health promotion, as well as rest, because we have been attending to more urgent or more important things, our health is going to suffer because our life habits have changed.
Finally, the expert emphasises that stress is associated with increased emotional reactions, especially anxiety and irritability. “If we are stressed for too long, we are more at risk of developing emotional overreactions and even emotional disorders such as anxiety or depression .”
What can we do to redirect ‘negative’ stress?
As Cano points out, it is time to stop and make changes when stress ceases to be something specific and becomes habitual.
The first step is to break the dynamic that causes it. “You have to make breaks in the activities that we are developing because our body, mind and emotions tend to recover when we stop having that hyperactivity,” he advises.
The second step would be to be well informed about what stress is and the consequences it can produce. “Sometimes, the lack of information can scare us and cause the opposite effect: even if we make breaks, we will continue turning it over in our minds, and we will not achieve anything. It can cause us even more stress.”
Finally, the specialist recommends learning relaxation techniques and acquiring good healthy habits.