P.O. Box 44027
Atlanta, GA 30336
Stress | noun | mental, emotional, or physical strain or tension
The historical and evolutionary purpose of an acute stress response was to allow our bodies to flee danger or fight back. As we have progressed both intellectually and industrially, the overwhelming pressures of society have exacerbated how we physically respond to stressful situations, and more than ever, people are living lives full of chronic, long term stress. Unfortunately, stress has a detrimental effect on the function of our vital organs. It has a myriad of different psychological, behavioral, and physiological implications that not only interfere with our daily lives, but significantly impede overall health and wellness.
In the event of a sudden and acute stress response, our heart rates generally increase, the body redirects energy to physical movement, digestion is halted, and glucose is released so that our muscles have plenty of fuel for operation. In addition to heart palpitations, our rate or respiration also increases. Although these physical responses are very useful in facilitating a quick response to this short term stressor, unless we behaviorally respond, these changes put strain on our organs and leave unnecessary sugars floating around in our blood stream. Luckily, our bodies are also equipped to regulate these short term responses, and they will (usually) adjust back to normal in a short period of time.
Long term stress, however, is not easy for the body to regulate. Research has shown that chronic emotional and physical strain can result in elevated blood pressure (which can ultimately lead to congestive heart failure), a weakened immune system, and permanent adjustments to neurons found within the brain. It also puts individuals at a greater risk for developing severe mental and emotional problems, including depression and anxiety. Chronic stress can have unhealthy effects on the overall amount and quality of sleep, and a lack of sleep can further exacerbate all the health problems mentioned above.
From a molecular standpoint, stress stimulates the release of cortisol which is a hormone that is involved with a myriad of different biological functions. The presence of cortisol helps to initiate the release of glucose (as mentioned in the acute stress response), but this hormone also prevents bone growth and suppresses the immune system. In addition, cortisol hinders collagen from playing its vital role in anatomical repair and tissue growth, which just so happens to have a profoundly negative impact on wound healing. Cortisol also plays a major role in water retention and adjusts the typical ionic balances that help to control basic cellular activity. In severe cases, extended periods of time with elevated cortisol may permanently damage cells found in the hippocampus, resulting in impairments to long term memory.
How can we cope with stress? Either you get rid of whatever's causing the stress, or you change your perception and reaction to the stress. Clearly, if we do not take the time to manage, regulate, and control our stress levels, we are literally reaping havoc on just about every aspect of our physical and emotional beings. But what are some ways that we can effectively reduce and cope with the stressful situations and circumstances in our lives? Luckily, there are several.
Sometimes the simultaneously most simple and most complicated aspect of stress is determining the root cause. For some people, figuring out the major stressors and emotional triggers in their lives is easy, but for others who have a hard time narrowing these down, a professional life coach, counselor, or licensed therapist might be helpful.
Many people struggle with pent up emotions that result from stress, and finding a healthy outlet to either channel or discuss these feelings is incredibly relieving. Discuss your problems with a trusted friend or family member. Schedule a meeting with a psychologist or even a leader at your local church. Join a support group or even a virtual forum so you can share your feelings with like minded individuals. Start journaling on a regular basis so you can redirect some of that emotional strain from your mind to paper.
Depending on the primary cause for your stress, there are a myriad of different techniques and practices that will help one cope and manage. One general way to relieve stress is exercise. Regardless if you prefer an intense workout or something more laid back, the benefits of being physically active often counteract the negative health effects of stress. A proper exercise session will utilize your energy in a positive way, make you stronger, and give you confidence that you can accomplish anything you set your mind to. Yoga, tai chi, and Pilates are other options that not only give your body the attention that it deserves, but all of these exercise regimens promote mental and emotional health as well.
Meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, and deep breathing exercises are great for calming nervous, stressful energy, and they are very effective at redirecting focus and mental clarity. Learning to focus will calm your mind. Some people report major benefits from assisted meditation through psychotherapy and hypnosis. These professionals actually specialize in reputable brain training exercises that not only improve self confidence and motivation, but help to reduce stress. It might also be helpful to take time for a daily devotional, prayer, or other religious based activity. It sounds simple, but you are what you think you are. That's what people mean by the power of positive thinking. If you believe you can succeed, then chances are you will. If you think and tell yourself you're going to fail, then how can you succeed? If you obsess about what you think you've done wrong, then how can you do things right? Enjoy your daydreams. Allowing yourself the freedom to let your mind wander is a natural pleasure and a great way to unwind. you might not be able to escape from the stressful situations in your life, but you can always dream about them.
If you are overwhelmed, make your life less stressful by creating a detailed calendar. If you know what to expect from your day, you are less likely to feel overwhelmed. Another part of adhering to a schedule is understanding that it is usually impossible to fit it all in. At some point, it is absolutely necessary to come to terms with the fact that making priorities requires saying ‘no’ every now and again. Just remember, being the king or queen of ‘yes’ only adds more to a plate that is so full it’s spilling over.
Time management also forces you to reevaluate what is important to you. You aren't perfect, and you can't be or do everything for everyone who expects something from you. If you write down and make To-Do lists, then you can have the satisfaction of checking off what you've gotten accomplished. If your list isn't finished by the end of the day, then start a new list for the next day. You'll also become much more realistic about what you can actually get done in a day, and therefore less harsh on yourself if you find you aren't able to complete everything. Once you can determine your utmost priorities, give those areas of your life the dedicated focus they deserve. When you excel at what you are truly good at, your confidence will soar and you are more likely to see how your efforts and hard work are paying off. Remember, however, it always takes less time actually to do something unpleasant or borong than to worry about it all day long.
Other stress relieving activities might include taking a walk, enjoying a hot bath or shower, or simply treating yourself with a manicure or massage. A hot bath with a few drops of lavender essential oil in the water will instantly relax you. And don't forget hot tea. A cup of steaming chamomile tea is relaxing and will help you sleep. You deserve to be pampered. Having a massage or a facial or escaping for a long weekend from all your regular stresses is a guaranteed stress buster. It’s important to take care of yourself, both mentally and physically, so always be sure that your self-indulgent splurges aren’t doing you more of a disservice than good. Binging on ice cream or maxing out the credit cards through retail therapy might be effective at first, but the aftermath can usually leave one feeling even more stressed out than they were to begin with.
Listen to your body. It's giving you signals all the time. Feed yourself when you're hungry; exercise yourself when you need energy; calm yourself when you need it. If you feel that stress is taking over your life, your body is probably echoing that sentiment. If your body isn’t already feeling the effects of your chronic stress, it probably will in the near future if you let it go untreated or unmanaged. You owe it to yourself to take a step back and make some changes in order to get your level of stress under control.
Learn to let go. There is no place for the "shoulds" in your life. If you wanted it and it didn't happen, then let go and move on. Life is too short to spend obsessing about what didn't happen instead of imagining what might happen if you open your heart and mind to it. It is possible to live our lives without having moments of happiness spoiled by those who tell us they "know best" -but that is easier said than done. What's stressful for you might not even register with someone else. Only you know what's best for you.
Get a pet. Pets give you unconditional love and devotion. They have been proven to help their owners live longer and to lower blood pressure; and if you have a dog that needs walking, there's a built-in exerciser right there! Taking good care of your pet will give you years of stress-reducing pleasure from a beloved companion.
Take a class. Even at the end of a long day, you'll find your mind totally engaged if you enroll in an adult-education course. It can be something you've always wanted to do, like bellydancing or cake decorating or photography, or something mentally stimulating like learning a foreign language. Studying a topic that involves memorization is a terrific way to improve your memory as well - you'll find yourself much less forgetful. And the benefit of studying for pleasure is that there are no competition, no grades and no tests you need to pass or graduate. The measure of your success will come from within and from testing your own capabilities. We need to keep learning and growing all our lives. There's no better way to keep your mind fit and strong.
Wanting to make changes is the first step toward feeling better. Ask yourself the following questions:
If you feel that your stress is unmanageable without medical intervention, do not hesitate to seek the advice or medicinal support from your primary care provider. There are a variety of different supplements and prescription medications that may help to balance out the hormone levels that could be causing your chronic stress.
By simply recognizing that your stress may need addressing, you are taking the first steps in order to get back into a relaxed and collected lifestyle.
Stress and ineffectual coping are associated with the development of illnesses, such as hypertension, coronary artery disease, headaches, back pain, and gastrointestinal upsets; decreased immunity; and mental health problems such as depression and substance abuse, to name a few. A study to see if perceived family stress was predictive in forecasting health problems found that people reporting a high level of family stress had more severe illness, follow-up visits, referrals, and hospitalizations over an 18-month period than low stress persons. Research has also shown that small stressors in life (daily hassles) can be an important sources of stress, perhaps as much or more than major events. Psychological distress is also associated with an increased risk for coronary heart disease.