You're cut off while driving. Your children erupt into a screaming fight. Or you're five minutes away from an interview for the job of your dreams and your composure evaporates in a rush of anxiety. When life delivers adversity, stress is the common response. Your body kicks into action, preparing for a fight. The adrenal glands pump out adrenaline and noradrenaline -- hormones that increase the heart rate, quicken breathing, raise blood pressure, and tense muscles. You're ready to take on the perceived threat to your safety or well-being.
Of course, in reality we rarely run from foes or physically challenge them. As a result, we don't burn off these powerful hormones, leaving them to "course through our bloodstream," explains Dr. Herbert Benson, a pioneer in stress research at Harvard Medical School's Mind/Body Medical Institute. In the short term, a pounding heart and sweaty palms can exacerbate the stressful emotions you're already feeling. Left unchecked, this chemical mix sets you up for an array of physical and emotional problems, says Benson, including anxiety, depression, and intensified PMS and menopause symptoms.
The next time you are facing a stressful situation, stop yourself from spiraling out of control and bring yourself back to center.
Text by Erin O'Donnell