You may have heard of a ‘weight loss set point,’ in which the theory suggests that a person has a certain set weight point that their body likes to be regardless of how much weight lost. But, are you familiar with the stress set point? I think the focus on a person’s ‘set weight point’ is actually the ‘stress set point’ of the person, considering stress is often the culprit for gaining and losing weight. However, weight has been easier to study, simply because there is a tangible and finite result to measure. Stress is not. Stress is ambiguous, sneaky, encompassing and often, we don’t know we’re under stress until something isn’t working or reached a breaking point.
Everyone has a stress set point, and this set point is basically the level of stress that your nervous system is used to, regardless if your stress level is wreaking havoc on your body and overall well-being.
Why is knowing your stress set point important? Simple, it will affect your mental, emotional and physical health and your relationship(s).
A person’s stress set point will often tell me (and you) 3 things:
1. Your stress set point will tell me your level of intensity.
2. It will tell me how comfortable or used to this intensity or chaos you are.
3. Your stress set point (and level of intensity) will tell me whether there’s a possible addiction or an addictive personality.
How does this stress set point get established?
Well, your stress set point becomes established by the stressful or traumatic experiences you have in life. The experiences can happen in childhood and or adulthood. There are various elements to this such as stress hormones and intensity level, but I will explain this simply. Below is a picture of a Temperature thermostat model with zero (0) being calm with the least amount of stress to the nervous system and 10 being the highest amount of stress to your nervous system.
Let’s say you’re born and your nervous system starts at 0 (zero) with little to no cortisol (stress hormone) flooding your system because your family environment is calm and all of your physical and emotional infant/toddler needs are met. Then as you grow older and move through life, you experience a stressful event(s) such as consistent neglect, beatings, being bullied or constant state of perfectionistic family expectations. These are only a few stressful/traumatic examples that children can go through. With each stressful experience, your nervous system becomes flooded with stress hormones (cortisol and adrenaline), increasing your stress set point (tolerance level) up to, let’s say a 6 or higher. At this level, your body becomes accustomed to being flooded with stress hormones.
I’ve given you an example that included experiences in childhood, but as you know, stressful and traumatic experiences also happen in adulthood. This can mean that if your stress set point was a 6 during childhood, and you further experience a major or multiple stressful experiences in adulthood, then the cycle begins again increasing your stress set point (tolerance).
However, when your body has consistent time to decompress and reduce its stress level from a 6+ to a 4 or less, you most likely will feel uncomfortable as if something is wrong and subconsciously create a stressful situation to increase the amount of stress hormones flooding your body, bringing your stress set point back up to a level 6. This can create a need for intensity by seeking out stressful experiences to induce stress hormones flooding your system. The higher your stress set point, the higher your intensity level. You need intensity to keep feeding your stress level. This is a way for your body to become ‘addicted’ to the flood of stress hormones, even if you are sick and tired of feeling stressed, and for the addictive personality this can feel the most comfortable.
I say ‘addicted,’ because like anything your body experiences, you can create a tolerance level, just like you can with drugs and alcohol. You may begin with using substances casually, yet you like the feeling it gives you, then you begin to use more or more often building a tolerance level for that drug. Over time, you need more of the drug/chemical (stress hormone/intensity) to get the same feeling as before, but often leaves you feeling worse.
Intensity can come in the form of high stress jobs, sports, extreme sports, multiple partners (affairs), intense or chaotic relationships and chaos in general. Just a few examples. Seeking intensity (or your stress set point) is a means to feel ‘normal’ by inducing stress into your system and can also be a set up for addiction to take place.
The good news: Your stress set point, like your weight set point can be changed. The bad news: it takes work. I know, fun times. Consistency is the name of the game. With consistent ‘work’ at reducing your stress and intensity level to calm your nervous system, your set point can be lowered which is the place where healing, flow and creativity happen. Learning your stress set point will help you gain awareness into patterns and behaviors in your life (Do you have an addiction or addictive personality?), your relationship dynamics (Do you seek out or create chaotic or intense relationships?), and your health (Is your health impacted in any way or do you seek out substances to quell?). Awareness allows for choice in how you want to live. Oh, and I almost forgot, a natural by-product of reduced stress is weight loss.