Stress occurs when the demands of our environment, both internal and external exceed the resources we have for coping with them. We need a certain amount of stress every day in order to survive and thrive.
Eustress, or good stress, is the force that helps us get out of bed in the morning, strive for a healthy sense of competitiveness at work or jump out of the way of a speeding car. However, stress can also be negative and if left untreated can become lethal to our bodies. Especially if it continues over a long period of time. The psychological and physical adjustments our body makes to stress are termed the stress response. This response is initiated in a small area of the brain called the hypothalamus, which responds to messages from various organs and controls within our body's automatic processes. In any situation you perceive as threatening, dangerous or overwhelming your body responds with certain changes.
Some of them you are aware of but others are undetected. They include:
- Increased pulse rate
- Elevated blood pressure
- Accelerated rate of breathing
- Rigidity of the muscles of the neck and back
- Temporary impairment of digestion
- Shortened blood clotting time
- Withdrawal of minerals from your bones
- Mobilization of fat from different storage sites
- Retention of an abnormal amount of salt
- Increased release of triglycerides and sugar into the blood
Not only is stress itself harmful to your body, stressed-out people often may turn to unhealthy habits to cope. Today's adult is faced with more stressors than in the past, frequently trying to balance many different roles at the same time. Every adult responds to the stressors in a different manner. However, studies have demonstrated the more control we feel we have over a situation the less negative stress is placed on the body.
Stress Control Strategies
Try to view an event or circumstance as something that is not going to last forever, and over which you do have a measure of control. Listen carefully to your body's signals to help determine when you are facing a rising stress level, allowing you to take the appropriate measures to cope. A great stress management technique is daily meditation. Some additional suggestions are:
- Maintain good health.
- Learn to recognize the symptoms of stress, such as rapid breathing, heart palpitations, irritability, anxiety, diarrhea, headache or backache.
- Talk openly about your feelings rather than keeping them bottled up inside.
- If you become angry, channel that anger through exercise, such as brisk walking, running, etc.
- Establish and maintain a strong support system.
- Try to put some distance between yourself and your source of stress so you will be able to take stock and regain your perspective.
- Mind/body techniques such as relaxation, deep breathing and guided imagery are very effective in stress management. Learn one of these techniques and begin to incorporate it in your daily routine.
- Laugh more. Humor is one of our best health allies; it boosts our immune system and releases natural endorphins.
- Put the stressor into perspective. Rate it one out of 10. (i.e. compare getting stopped at a red light to a death in the family)
Most importantly, make taking care of yourself a priority!