Stress? Who doesn’t have stress, right? Many of us is deal with a constant high level of stress and half of us commander a moderate level of ongoing intermittent stress. This is probably not a big surprise considering the current world affairs and state of the economy. However, besides the politics and finances, other stressors to factor in stem from our personal and professional relationships, job stress, raising children, etc.
While stress is unpleasant experience, our body is equipped with a stress response to handle these situations. However, high levels of constant stress, do have damaging effects to the body.
When astress response is triggered, the brain sends signals to 1. the pituitary gland, and 2. the adrenal medulla (the outer portion of the adrenal gland) where the hormone cortisol is released.…creating thethe Fight or Flight Stress Response.
Stress triggers a cascade of events causing a release of stress hormones and a variety of physiological changes in the body. The classic example of this phenomenon is that of being approached by danger, say a saber tooth tiger. First one panics, and your heart beats faster and more intensely. Breathing intensifies, as your skeletal muscles tense and your eyes open wide. Welcome to the stress response, our hormonal / physical mechanism for survival. This response prepares you to either fight or flee from the danger at hand.
However the bodyreacts to all types of stress in the very the same way , even though many stressors are not life threatening. Our body treats these stressors in the same fashion: work stress, traffic jams, family quarrels, etc. You may feel the quickening of your heartbeat and breathing, and your muscles tighten...even with no eminent life threatening danger.
In 1936 the Hungarian-Canadian endocrinologist researcher Hans Selye, first coined the term stress. He discovered that stress comes in many forms: chemical, physical, and emotional. Each of these ‘stressors” cause the same reaction: a release of the hormones (cortisol, etc.) from the adrenal cortex. He observed that high stress simulations cause a cascade of detrimental health effects eventually causing disease and organ damage. Hans termed the physiological effects of this digression the "General Adaptation Syndrome", GAS.
Hans discovered that chronic exposure to stress, leads to increased aging and disease.
Signs of stress overload: Binging
People dealing with constant stress often exercise less and eat more often. Bouts of food binging lead to eventual obesity, diabetes. Many also indulge in excessive smoking, alcohol abuse.
Chronic stress has a laundry list of effects: High blood pressure, clogging up of blood vessels, anxiety, depression, mood instability, poor sleep and heart attack. The kicker is that stress also increases aging!
“Every stress leaves an indelible scar, and the organism pays for its survival after a stressful situation by becoming a little older.” Hans Selye (1907-1982)
Sure eliminating the stressor such as a person or situation is a first step in reducing the problem. But when the stressor is a child or a difficult co-worker you will need to learn skills to mitigate the stress. Therapists can of course offer techniques on how to not react to these situations and people and suggest coping mechanisms for these situations.
Here are some techniques that I find useful:
1.) Step into another's shoes:If the stressor is a person, I find that taking the time to understand and identify their point of view, may just solve the problem. Letting others know that you understand their position (anger, anxiety, irritation, helplessness, etc.) and that you are doing the best that you can (with the resources at hand, with the time that is available, etc.) often help. Others like to be heard and feel that you hear them. By you giving voice to their concerns they know that you are listening and that you care. This can often take the charge off a situation, facilitates communication and leads to greater understanding .
2.) Voice your feelings:On the other hand you also need to voice and speak your concerns and feelings. This may not drastically change the situation but you feel better.It is never a good idea to just zip it up, and doing so usually adds to your internal stress and frustration. Be careful to not blame others as you open up, share what you feel in an open and honest way, but don’t blame others in the process.
3.) Take responsibility for your actions.If you decide to go Christmas shopping on Christmas eve, yeah you might just encounter some stress... but isn’t safe to say that you brought it on yourself? How often do we wait until the last minute do something? More important in these situations we are creating our own stress by poor planning! So, when applicable, be in charge of your schedule and your life, not a slave to it.
4.) Exercise:one of the easiest ways to relieve stress is exercise. A 10 minute walking will give you more energy and help to change your mood. 20 minutes or more in the gym or exercising at home and you will be a changed person. Stress what stress?
5.) Yoga and or Deep Breathing:Many yoga postures are done slowly, are held for 30 or more seconds and involve deep breathing. This type of yoga helps to 1. focus and calm the mind and 2. to slow and deepen your breathing. Deep full body breathing helps us center our mind into the present moment, away from perceived threats of the past or future. Stretching into tight muscles allows your body to destress as your muscles relax. This experience will leave you feeling less reactive and more centered.
6.) Feel your heartbeat, feel the love, be the love.Take several moments and connect with your heartbeat, allowing your heartbeat to slow down. Love yourself, we are alive and we need to love ourselves first and foremost. Be kind to yourself, there are no mistakes just lessons, plenty of them. Listening to your heartbeat allows you to tune into your essence and purpose. Bath yourself with kindness.