If you answer ‘yes’ to any of the questions below, chances are you may be stress intolerant.
Do you seethe with rage if you have to sit on the train next to someone talking on their phone?
Do you break down in tears when the bus timetable changes?
Do you want to throw a bucket of water in the smiling face of a weather forecaster giving bad news?
Do you want to get out of the car and punch the driver who has been driving up the back of you for the last few miles?
What is the advantage of being stress tolerant?
This means that your ability to handle stress is lessened and unfortunately this can happen as we age.
Stress is a completely normal physiological response to a situation that we perceive as ‘dangerous’. When we feel under threat, the body responds by releasing stress hormones that prepare us to stay and fight. Our heart starts to beat faster, our muscles contract ready for action, our blood pressure rises and our senses become more alert to sharpen our perceptions.
We are incredibly adaptable creatures and a small amount of stress is completely normal to help us meet everyday challenges. It makes us feel alive! The problem as we age is that we may begin to lose that adaptability. Eventually the part of our brain, known as the hippocampus, which is linked to learning and memory starts to shrink. This makes it difficult to process our experiences and simple everyday tasks may seem like insurmountable problems.
The effect the shrinking hippocampus has on our brain is to interrupt the nerve supply. The nervous system is a network of connections that control the reactions and movement of the body in response to its environment. This network is made up of neurones which communicate with one another by moving chemicals called neurotransmitters across the gaps between them.
Whilst all of this may seem rather hopeless, good news is in sight in the form of physical activity. What physical activity does is activate a gene in an area of the hippocampus which stimulates the production of a nerve growth factor known as Brain Derived Neurotropic Factor (BDNF) This fantastic protein actually promotes the growth of new neurones and even helps prevent already existing ones from dying.