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. And have you developed healthy habits for managing stress?
Today’s article will give you a brief background about how stress affects our brain and body and then give you practical options for de-stressing and managing the stress that’s part of most everyone’s life. I remember being 9 years old and hearing Norman Vincent Peale say that’ the only people who don’t have problems (stress) are those lying at the cemetery’.
Our nervous systems are designed to keep us safe and alive. In cave men days, we might encounter a wild animal that was one of our predators. We are designed to’fight’ or’flee’ when a predator threatens us. In other words, our brains release neurochemicals which make us quickly (so we can run away from the predator – flee) and strong (so we can fight and kill our predator). This puts us in ‘survival mode’. This surge 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 nearly have a car accident. You do not need to think about releasing the adrenal, it happens automatically when you feel threatened by an oncoming vehicle. It makes you more alert and speeds up your response time so that you can safely avoid the crash. And then, it goes off very quickly after the episode and you unwind.
In our society we rarely encounter actual predators that threaten our lives. Instead we face chronic’stressors’ that activate the same’fight or flight’ response that a predator would activate. And instead of going away quickly, the stress hormones remain high in our systems nearly always. These same stress hormones which work so well to help us survive in a dangerous situation then 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 own boss; you don’t have sufficient money; you worry about your health; you are exposed 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 ideas racing about all the things you need to get done. Phew! It’s stressful just to think about all these things.
ACTION How 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 stressed is deadly! Look at the chronic stresses in particular that never get solved or that recur regularly.
Look for ways to change the stressful circumstances. By way of instance, if your job is very stressful, make adjustments that ease the stress, and talk to your boss about options for change. If this doesn’t work, start looking for a less stressful job situation. Your life depends upon 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 respond differently to the same stressor. Some folks become very angry at seemingly minor matters while others never seem to get angry. Remember the name of Richard Carlson’s book Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff. And It’s All Small Stuff.
Pay attention to your thoughts. If you worry constantly, you’ll be in a constant survival mode. Worry and anger release stress hormones. Learn how to manage your thoughts. Replace stress or negative thinking with calm, positive thoughts.
This calms the mind and the body and helps to reduce the amount of stress hormones in your 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 enjoy and fit it in everyday. While you’re exercising, watch your own thoughts. If you spend the whole time feeling angry about something and running it over and over in your mind, you will negate some of the benefits of the exercise.
Speak to someone about how you are feeling. Don’t attempt to do it all alone. When you discuss your feelings with someone else you’ll feel much better. And they may have some excellent suggestions for helping you de-stress.
Get some help. Design your life so you’re doing just those things that only you can do. For instance, if you are in business, focus on serving your customers and attracting more customers and nothing else. Get an assistant to answer the telephone, manage your emails, do the bookkeeping, etc.. At home, get some cleaning aid, use Stop and Shop Peapod to get your groceries delivered to your home, and hire someone to mow your yard.
Eat a healthy diet on a regular schedule. Do not skip meals. Make sure you are getting all the nutrients your body has to handle stress. Eat organic foods whenever possible to reduce your toxic load. Eat only the calories you will consume daily.
Nurture yourself. Get a great night’s sleep. Get a massage. Relax in a warm bath or hot tub. Read a fantastic book. Watch a popular movie. Listen to a 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.
Make an appointment with a psychotherapist. A therapist will help you understand yourself better and help you explore options for changing the stressful situation and how you respond to stress. They’ll 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 management.
Do some Neurofeedback Training. Neurofeedback is a form of biofeedback on brainwaves that teaches your brain to regulate itself . It’s effective for depression, anxiety, sleep disorders, and much more. It is approved by the FDA for stress control. Read my next newsletter to learn how to’Change Your Mind’ so you’re not stuck in an non-productive, stressful thinking pattern.