Less stress, more happiness in life!

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How chronic stress affects the body, why the heart in particular suffers, and how to achieve more balance in everyday life.
I don’t have time”, “I’m so stressed,” and “I have so much to do”: stress seems to be a daily companion for most people. Yet not all stress is the same. “The number of stress factors is large and their nature diverse,” explains Dr. Doris Eller-Berndl, preventive physician and medical coach from Vienna.

Stress is perceived as unfavorable, especially if it is chronic, i.e., long-lasting stress. However, stress does not necessarily have to be a bad thing. For example, anticipation, positive excitement, or a ride on a roller coaster can also cause the pulse rate and stress hormones to be released.

Good stress or “eustress” makes you feel good, provides a zest for life, and motivates you. “A certain amount of stress is also important for our brain to get us into a range that allows for optimal attention and cognitive performance,” she says. Again, it’s all in the dose. Too little stress can promote boredom and depression, while too much stress can trigger anxiety and harm health. The right amount of “eustress” positively affects brain performance.

The human body is well prepared for stress: “By releasing stress hormones such as adrenaline, noradrenaline, and cortisol, and by activating the stress nervous system sympathetic nervous system, the body ensures absolute ability to act within seconds and at the same time dampens all functions that are not necessary for survival,” says the preventive medicine specialist, explaining the biological processes during a stressful situation.

How people react in threatening situations varies. The three best-known reaction patterns are Flight, Fight and Freeze. In acute stress situations, one is thus able to flee in the best case. If this is not possible, one can try to fight. “This is what distinguishes people who can keep a cool head in life-threatening situations such as terrorist attacks, airplane disasters, significant fires, or war experiences and remain resilient later on. But if one is unable to act, there is still playing dead.

Children, people with anxiety disorders, and depression often belong to this reaction,” says Eller-Berndl. All these descriptions refer to acute, short-term stress, followed by an intensive recovery phase that brings the body back into balance. In this recovery phase, regenerative hormones such as DHEA and melatonin, messenger substances such as neuropeptide Y, and the vagus nerve are essential. The vagus nerve controls and influences numerous critical bodily functions and is responsible for recovery, rest, and relaxation.

Whereas in the Stone Age, the legendary saber-toothed tiger caused Homo sapiens’ stress hormones to skyrocket, 21st-century humans are constantly confronted with alarm stimuli.

Stress is originally a short-term emergency program. The human blueprint, which has remained unchanged for about 50,000 years, is thus designed for short-term, but not permanent, stresses of the kind that dominate today. If one stress follows the next, the regenerative hormones and the vagus nerve can no longer provide compensation, and stress becomes a problem. “Our regenerative mechanisms are also subject to an aging process that takes place even more clearly and rapidly under permanent stress and has consequences for our physical and mental health and our ability to function,” the expert reports.

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