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New perspective

Stress as a happiness factor

You might be thinking: "That can't be right. Am I supposed to be happy now, too, for all the stress I'm under?"
Author Angela Gleixner-Lück, therapist

News from stress research

Admittedly, at first glance the title of this article seems a little strange or even provocative. However, current results from stress research show that a stress reaction is not always bad or necessarily makes us sick. On the contrary, it can be very helpful in coping well with the many demands that the normal stress of everyday life places on us.

But what actually is "stress"?
First of all, stress is a completely natural reaction of the body that enables us humans to deal with physical and mental stress. It serves to increase performance in the short term. Palpitations, faster and shallower breathing, tense neck, shoulder and back muscles, sweating, nervousness or a dry mouth, tell us that the body is actively gearing up to deal with the situation. A complex cocktail of hormones, such as adrenaline, noradrenaline, cortisol, dopamine and others, help the body to do this.

So why does it have such an immensely bad reputation?
The bad reputation of the stress response is a legacy of early stress research on rats. They were exposed to fear of death, hunger, cold and the most extreme other situations. But the stress that lab rats suffered was not the everyday stress of humans. Nor is there only the oldest, evolutionarily anchored "flight and fight" response. The very inspiring "challenge reaction" and the "protect and befriend reaction" support humans in various situations.

What the body needs

The body's energy is controlled by the autonomic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system gives gas - it supplies our organs with energy. Its counterpart - the parasympathetic or vagus nerve slows down the energy of the sympathetic nervous system and ensures rest and relaxation. Ideally, both systems come into their own and phases of activity are followed by sufficient breaks and restful sleep. A life in predominantly sympathetic mode weakens the entire organism, disrupts important hormonal functions in the long term (e.g. thyroid gland) or leads to cardiac arrhythmia.

For all stress reactions, the body needs energy, the availability of which is strongly influenced by nutrition. All metabolic processes (digestion, respiration, body heat, etc.) are controlled by about 2500 enzymes. In order to be able to work, these enzymes need so-called co-enzymes, vitamins and minerals. Permanent stress, above all the flight and fight reaction, requires much more additional energy and therefore quickly empties the vital substance stores. Unfortunately, it also reduces the production of digestive enzymes, and thus reduces the absorption of vital substances from food in the intestine. Particularly important are the B1, B6, B12 vitamins, vitamin C, coenzyme Q10, calcium, iron, magnesium and zinc.

Vitamin B
The supply of B vitamins is particularly affected here. They have a direct influence on emotional state, nervous stress and mental performance. Among other things, they are needed for the production of noradrenalin and serotonin and are therefore important "emotional messengers". Since these vitamins are also involved in the transmission of nerve impulses to the brain, long-term stress leads more quickly to poor performance and difficulty concentrating.

Magnesium is also involved in the transmission of nerve impulses. It curbs the transmission of excitation in the nerves and muscles and blocks the release of stress hormones such as noradrenalin. Insufficient magnesium levels also weaken the immune system. Vitamin C is severely impaired in its effect without magnesium. Overall, muscle tremors, overexcitability or concentration disorders. A sufficient magnesium level is therefore by itself an effective protection. Strath Vitality with magensium


Anti-stress emergency equipment

  • A play list with your happiest favourite songs.
  • Favourite pictures in your wallet, on your desk or mobile phone.
  • A scent (perfume or essential oil) that brings a smile to your face.
  • A small, fine treat in your handbag or desk.
  • A hand charm, a shell - something you can hold in your hand with good memories.
  • A poem, a saying that speaks to you, touches you or gives you courage. John Lennon once said: "Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans...".

And now for the good news.
Thank goodness: In today's everyday life we are very rarely confronted with situations in which the lightning-fast flight and fight response is necessary or useful. Nevertheless, such biological processes always play a part, even if we do not have to flee from an acutely dangerous situation. Complex hormonal cycles make the necessary energies available to the body and brain in a matter of seconds. They can release undreamt-of physical forces, awaken all our senses and sharpen our perception. Unimportant things fade into the background. Neurotransmitters such as dopamine, endorphins provide a motivational boost and euphoric mood. This reaction also helps us to cope well with surprising, unfamiliar situations.

In less threatening stress situations, such as difficulties at work, the brain and body switch to the challenge response. It works with a different chemical composition of the hormone cocktail and activates other bodily reactions. We also have the necessary energy here, the feel-good chemistry through the hormones serotonin and dopamine also increases. However, we are without anxiety, highly concentrated, creative and completely absorbed in what we are doing. We recover more quickly from this stressful situation, gain self-confidence and learn from it.

What can you do yourself?

Tips for stress reactions

Support with additional vitamins, minerals or enzyme preparations such as Strath herbal yeast
Critically question your convictions and attitudes to life. Change them - if necessary.
Increase your oxytocin levels: network, nurture your friendships, get help.
Work in small steps and start with changes that work well. Reward yourself when you succeed.

Friendships: The anti-stress remedy.
Another stress response with a positive effect is the "protect and befriend" response. It motivates us to connect with other people and is controlled by the hormone oxytocin. This "cuddle hormone" is released during hugs, sex and breastfeeding, among other things. It creates a desire for social contact, increases trust in other people and makes us more helpful and unselfish. In stressful situations itself, it dampens anxiety and is a real "encourager". On the physical level, it helps our cardiovascular system, among other things, to recover more quickly from the negative consequences of a stress reaction. Compulsive avoidance of challenging situations thus also deprives us of important social experiences. We shut ourselves off and become despondent.

Recovery phase
The final stage of a stress response is the recovery phase. Various hormones rebalance our nervous system. The brain processes and integrates the experience. It learns, new nerve connections grow, existing ones become denser and more stable. Emotions such as joy, relief, sadness or anger help the brain to process and evaluate the situation it has overcome. This means that in addition to activation, our body always has compensation at the ready, which is just as natural - but slower - as the "mobilisation" of the body.

Stress response

Try it out

Perhaps you are now asking yourself whether you yourself can influence your stress response in your everyday life? Yes, you can! Beliefs and attitudes to life play an important role. They are a result of our experiences, upbringing, social environment and the culture in which we live. They usually shape us unconsciously, guiding and influencing our thoughts and actions.

Conviction is worth its weight in gold

These beliefs also apply to the evaluation of stress response: A group of participants in a study in the USA had the conviction "that stress is harmful, detrimental to health and should therefore be avoided at all costs". In this group, all negative physical and psychological effects of stress increased, up to and including lower life expectancy. In the comparison group, the belief was "stress is beneficial". The participants were comprehensively informed that stress, among other things, increases performance, productivity and enjoyment of life or facilitates learning. This group was significantly healthier, more satisfied, more energetic and more productive at work. They perceived the stressful situation as a challenge rather than an insurmountable problem. They had greater confidence in their abilities and were able to make sense of difficult situations.

Literature tips
Kelly McGonigal: Happiness Factor Stress, Trias Verlag, ISBN 978-3-432-10521-5
Prof. Dr. med. Gerd Schnack: The great resting nerve, Herder Verlag, ISBN 978-3-451-06853-9
Klaus Bernhardt: Getting Rid of Depression and Burnout, Ariston Verlag, ISBN 978-3-424-20205-2

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