Much like other topics, stress is a very large topic and this blog can barely scratch the surface. If you have further interests, seek a healthcare professional and know that there are people out there willing to help.
What is stress?
If you were to look up stress in dictionaries, encyclopedias, or the internet, it is likely you will find multiple definitions. My favorite definition comes from the American Chiropractic Association: “Stress is a physical and mental response to the difference between our expectations and our personal experience” (ACA News July 2009 pg 22). When we encounter a stressful situation, our body will respond by stimulating the sympathetic nervous system; or “fight or flight response”. The body then goes through a few changes in preparation for this “fight or flight”. Our body releases hormones (mainly cortisol) and other chemical stimulators, accelerating your heart rate, increasing blood pressure, increasing breathing, decreasing digestion, dilating your pupils, weakening your immune system, and the list goes on.
What are the signs and symptoms of stress?
The effects of stress can be generally broken down to three broad categories: physical symptoms, mental symptoms, and behavior symptoms. Stress often presents itself as neck pain and stiffness, muscle tension, headaches, stroke like symptoms, heart palpitations, heart attack like symptoms, bell’s palsy, shingles, digestive issues, feeling cranky, worrying, being jumpy, feeling tired, frustration, loosing your temper, feeling overwhelmed, grinding your teeth, etc. Stress can lead to over eating, increased blood sugar, isolationism, lack of exercises, depression, insomnia, fatigue, anxiety, etc. Studies have shown that people who are under chronic stress are more likely to have elevated levels of inflammation, which in turn increases your risk for other diseases and slower healing times. Studies have also shown that stressed people are 54% more likely to have heart attacks and strokes, and chronic stress can also double the chances of men developing diabetes. It has been estimated that 80% of all disease has some stress factors involved.
What are some common stressors?
Polls have shown insecurity to be ranked one of the top stressors. You may be thinking insecurity? What about money? Or loosing a job? The stress behind a lot of issues is the insecurity. Insecure thoughts about money, job security, joint bank accounts or sharing money and the different views on money within relationships. Hair loss is ranked high behind money which in turn creates a negative self image and sense of unattractiveness or aging. Another big reported stressor is dealing with others, relationship issues, peer pressure, crime, violence, mean and inconsiderate people, road rage, etc. Every day driving around town can be stressful for some. Even otherwise happy events such as weddings, a new job or promotion, or a vacation can be stressful.
What to do about stress?
First off realize it is impossible to avoid stress. Stress is something that is going to happen everyday of your life, so you need to learn to work through these situations. A key to working through a stressful situation is to identify the stressor and break it down into one of these categories: not my problem, my problem and urgent, or my problem and not urgent. This simply will help you prioritize your problems, and eliminate things that others may want to make into your problem. Another key to living and dealing with stress is having a positive attitude. A positive attitude, or optimist, type person will have that sunny outlook about the future and typically cope with life’s stresses better than those who are pessimistic; researchers believe this may be due to the strong social network that optimists will have and how this helps them deal with stress. Optimistic people typically report that they know people who will help them get through these situations; simply put they have hope. Another very important aspect to dealing with stress is being pro active, or having good habits, in your ways to reduce stress. Here is a short list of ideas to be pro active:
- Exercise is a stress buster so schedule time for exercise, yoga, hikes, or walks daily
- Take the time to sit down and create a budget, get in control of your finances and be honest about what you can and can not afford, keep a savings
- Know you can not influence others, the only thing you can control is your own thoughts, actions, and reactions
- Realize that sometimes you make mistakes too, so forgive and let go
- Find people entertaining, try not to see them as someone who needs help, often they don’t want help and you will find yourself wasting your time stressing out about trying to fix their situation
- Daily meditation or structured time outs can reduce stress and recharge your batteries
- Reinterpretation or looking for the silver lining
- Micro breaks, during your day take a 30 second time out to stretch your neck and roll your shoulders and close your eyes
- Make a tomorrow to do list
- Listen to music
- Turn the depressing news off and avoid negative conversations with negative people
- Humor and laughter (look up jokes and funny videos on the internet)
- Nutritious eating, balance your blood sugar
- Massage/Day spa, Acupuncture, Chiropractic care can be used to help relax
- Don’t let things build up to the point that you explode
- Deep breathing, pause between breathing out and breathing in
- Take a nap
- Supplements like adaptogenic herbs, vitamin B, Vitamin C, minerals, adrenal support (seek the advise of a health care professional before self treatment and diagnosis)
- Resolve chronic infections such as parasites, fungus, yeast, bacterial, mold, or viral infections
- Remove any food allergies or sensitivities
- Check your vitamin D levels and if necessary supplement
- Get out side and get some sunshine
Choosing not to deal with stress is not an option, eventually it will catch up with you and if you are not properly prepared could result in physical and/or mental break down. Society has many of us wound up tight, and for what? At the end of the day where does that take you besides an early grave? How many times have you had someone tell you “I own a Jacuzzi and never use it”? Well make the time. Everyone needs to figure out what they can do on a daily basis to reduce their own stress. I encourage you to today take 20 minutes out of your day and reduce your stress today. It is not being selfish it is simply taking care of yourself.