Did you know that 75-90% of all visits to primary care physicians are due to stress-related illness? We’ve all heard about stress: what causes it, what it does to us. But have you really thought about the stressors in your life? And have you developed healthy habits for managing stress?
Today’s article will provide you a brief history about how stress affects our brain and body and give you practical choices for de-stressing and handling the stress that is part of most everyone’s life. I remember being 9 years old and hearing Norman Vincent Peale say that’ the only people who do not have problems (stress) are those lying at the cemetery’.
Our nervous systems are intended to keep us safe and alive. In cave men days, we might encounter a wild animal that had been one of our predators. We are intended to’fight’ or’flee’ when a predator threatens us. In other words, our brains release neurochemicals that make us fast (so we can run away from the predator – flee) and strong (so we could fight and kill our predator). This puts us in ‘survival mode’. This explosion of’stress hormones’ as we now refer to them will be instantaneous, and then go away quickly as the need disappears.
Think of the adrenal rush you feel when you almost have a car accident. You don’t need to think about releasing the adrenal gland, it occurs automatically once you feel threatened by an oncoming vehicle. It makes you more alert and speeds up your response time so you can safely avoid the crash. And then, it goes off very quickly after the incident and you unwind.
In our society we rarely encounter actual predators that threaten our lives. Instead we confront chronic’stressors’ that activate the same’fight or flight’ response that a predator could activate. And rather than going away fast, the stress hormones remain high in our systems almost continuously. These same stress hormones that work so well to help us survive in a dangerous situation become a threat to our health when they remain chronically high.
Stress hormones are released when: you are feeling pressured by time, always in a hurry with too much to do; you have arguments with your spouse, children or your boss; you do not have enough cash; you worry about your health; you are vulnerable to toxins in your food and environment; you get frustrated dealing with bureaucracy; you lay in bed at night (when you ought to be relaxed) with your thoughts racing about all the things you need to get done. Phew! It’s stressful just to think about these things.
ACTION The best way to counter these present sources of stress in your life
You will need to realize how important managing your stress is to your health and make it a priority. Recall being chronically stressed is deadly! Look at the chronic stresses in particular that never get resolved or that recur regularly.
Start looking for ways to change the stressful circumstances. By way of instance, if your job is very stressful, make changes that facilitate the stress, and talk to your boss about options for change. When it does not work, start searching for a less stressful job situation. Your life depends on it.
Understand how you react to stress and to learn how to manage your response. Do you feel overwhelmed, angry, frustrated, stressed, or hopeless? Different people will react differently to the same stressor. Some people become very angry at seemingly minor things while others never seem to get upset. Remember the name of Richard Carlson’s book Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff.
Pay attention to your thoughts. Should you worry constantly, you’ll be in a continuous survival mode. Stress and anger release stress hormones. Learn how to manage your thoughts. Replace worry or negative thinking with calm, positive ideas.
Learn and practice daily meditation. This calms the brain and the body and helps to reduce the amount of stress hormones in the body. Many meditations focus on the breath. By regulating your breathing you regulate your stress hormones. It works!
Exercise regularly. Find an exercise that you like and match it in everyday. While you are exercising, watch your own thoughts. If you spend the entire time feeling angry about something and running it over and over in your head, you will negate a few of the benefits of the exercise.
Talk to someone about how you’re feeling. Don’t attempt to do it all alone. When you share your feelings with someone else you’ll feel better. And they may have some excellent suggestions for helping you de-stress.
Design your life so you’re doing just those things that only you can do. For instance, if you’re in business, focus on serving your clients and attracting more customers and nothing else. Get an assistant to answer the telephone, manage your emails, do the bookkeeping, etc.. In the home, get some cleaning aid, use Stop and Shop Peapod to get your groceries delivered to your home, and hire someone to mow your lawn. You get the idea.
Eat a healthy diet on a regular schedule. Do not skip meals. Ensure that you are getting all the nutrients your body has to handle stress. Eat organic foods whenever possible to lower your toxic load. Eat only the calories that you will use up daily.
Nurture yourself. Get a good night’s sleep. Get a massage. Relax in a hot bath or spa. Read a good book. Watch a favorite movie. Listen to some relaxing or cheerful music. Go out to dinner with a few friends. Play a game with your kids. Sing. Watch a fantastic comedian. Get outside and allow nature rejuvenate you.
A therapist can help you know yourself better and help you explore options for altering the stressful situation and how you react to stress. They will help you manage your thoughts and feelings.
Experiencing chronic pain is quite stressful and places the body in survival mode. If necessary get expert help for pain control.
Neurofeedback is a form of biofeedback on brainwaves that teaches your brain to regulate itself . It’s approved by the FDA for stress management. Read my next newsletter to find out how to’Change Your Mind’ so you’re not stuck in a non-productive, stressful thinking pattern.