Mindfulness and the Stress Response
Can you identify with that heart racing – sweating palms – stomach churning feeling that we get when we feel stress? Perhaps this was your response when you first realised that COVID-19 had become real in your local context?
In itself, the stress response is actually designed to protect us. When faced with a perceived danger, our instincts come to the fore and we either ‘fight or take flight’ in order to protect ourselves and survive. Our assessment of what is stressful and how great the threat is, is individual – it is linked to our own perception of what is going on in the environment. This explains why it is that what one person perceives as stressful, may have no impact on the person standing beside them.
How many times have you revisited an event or a conversation that brought out your stress response in the past and relived it like it was happening for the first time? Many of us do this – we even do it with events we are anticipating in the future as we imagine the situation in our heads.
When we experience a stress response, our bodies produce stress hormones – adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol – which trigger those familiar physical signs. It is important to note that not all stress is bad. Sometimes we respond positively to our stress response. For example, perhaps we are able to work through the stress to achieve something that needs to be done or perhaps we are able to rise to a challenge and discover a strength we are unaware of in ourselves.
However, prolonged exposure to that stress response can be harmful not only to our mental health and well-being, but also to our physical health. In this case, it is useful to have a way to manage our response in order to reduce the damage to ourselves both mentally and physically. Mindfulness can be a useful tool to use when your stress response is triggered.