One of the unhealthiest things we can do is over-stress. There is almost no part of our bodies that goes unaffected when we don’t get necessary rest and recuperation. In today’s busy world, stress isn’t reserved for workaholics alone. Are you experiencing stress? What are some of the symptoms of stress? What can you do to alleviate stress naturally and effectively?
We have all experienced stress in some way or another. If we extend ourselves farther than necessary, it can lead us down a dangerous road of extreme strain on our bodies and overall health.
Stress can be useful in small doses. It can save our lives by indicating the severity of a threat we are assessing. But, it can also cost us our lives if we don’t take the damaging side effects seriously.
“Some kinds of stress, very short-term, that last only a matter of minutes, actually redistribute cells in the bloodstream in a way that could be helpful,” says Suzanne Segerstrom, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Kentucky who has conducted studies on stress and the immune system. “But once stress starts to last a matter of days, there are changes in the immune system that aren’t so helpful. And the longer that stress lasts, the more potentially harmful those changes are.”
People often say that ‘stress can be a motivator’, but we should be careful in praising stress. More often than not, what motivates us is a mixture of stimulation and engagement. With the example of goal setting, we know that it’s a great motivator because goals give us something to aim for and keep us feeling engaged. Stimulation and engagement are good, but they are not stress.
Stress is the negative whirlwind of emotions that actually inhibits our stimulation and engagement. It can result in ineffective decision-making, compromised creativity, mental exhaustion, and physical burnout. In other words, stress actually de-motivates us in a number of harmful ways.
Without stress, we have more energy to get things done and have more fun doing them. We all enjoy pushing ourselves to accomplish an exciting objective, but we don’t need stress to help us get there. Simply put, if you are stressed out and seeing success, you’re succeeding in spite of your stress, not because of it.
DANGERS OF STRESS
A number of dental students volunteered for a study evaluating the impact stress has on our bodies’ ability to heal wounds. The students were to receive small cuts on the roofs of their mouths on two occasions: once during summer break and again six weeks later, during exams. The students’ wounds took 40% longer to heal when they were under the stress of exams. In addition, the students’ levels of a protein called IL-1 (which engages other immune cells) were found to be two-thirds lower when the students were in exams than in the summer.
Stress that continues without relief can lead to a condition called ‘distress,’ which is a negative stress reaction.
Distress can lead to physical or emotional symptoms including:
- upset stomach
- frequent infections
- muscle tension or twitching
- elevated blood pressure
- chest pain
- skin irritations
- asthma or breathing difficulties
- impaired judgment
- drug addiction or alcoholism
- impotence or lack of sex drive
- socially withdrawn
- chills or night sweats
- weight loss or weight gain
Research suggests that stress also can bring on or worsen certain diseases.There is virtually no part of your body that goes untouched by stress.
ALTERNATIVE APPROACHES TO STRESS
The primary treatment approach to symptoms of stress in the United States is prescription drugs such as antidepressants (such asElavil, amoxapine, Anafranil, Vivactil, Norpramin, and others) , beta blockers, and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (such as Celexa, Lexapro, Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft, and others). However, many alternative approaches to prescription medications are available, including change of lifestyle, diet and exercise.
The first part of managing stress is identifying the main stressors in your life and dealing with them accordingly. Are your main sources of stress external (physical environment, workplace, relationships with others) or internal (nutrition, your emotional well-being, the amount of sleep you get)?
If the majority of your stress comes from specific situations, the most effective stress management techniques to use are those that you can apply on as soon as you feel yourself becoming tense or anxious. Some common techniques that you can apply anywhere are
- deep breathing,
- relaxation technique such as guided imagery.
- positive thought or quote
- personal mantra, a slogan or positive statement
Other effective alternative approaches to stress, such as yoga, Tai Chi, music therapy, EFT, self-hypnosis, chiropractic, etc., can be found in our article, “20 Alternative Approaches to Stress.”
If your stress is environmental, then you can start making small changes to improve the environment you are in, or small adjustments in your perspective to make the most out of where you are. Whether the source is external or internal, you’ll manage it most successfully if you focus on making only one or two small changes at a time. You don’t want to stress yourself out about being less stressed!
CHANGING YOUR ATTITUDE
Our attitude about stress makes a huge difference. For instance, moving into a new office can be a very stressful situation. But whether the tension you experience is debilitating or exhilarating will depend on how you view that particular situation.
The best way to begin to relax is to start with developing a more positive attitude toward challenges. Practice replacing negative thoughts with more positive ones.
For example, rather than thinking, “Why does everything always go wrong?” change this thought to, “I can find a way to get through this.” It may seem hard or silly at first, but eventually you may find it helps turn your outlook around.
Ask yourself, “What is my favorite way to relax?” Implementing relaxation techniques is a great way to handle daily stress as they help slow your heart rate and lower your blood pressure. There are many types such as meditation, yoga, and Tai Chi.
Is it an ordeal or a stimulating challenge? Make sure to focus on the stimulation and engagement, instead of the stress, by consciously choosing to view situations in a positive light. Think of the growth that can come from overcoming the challenge instead of the toll it will take on you to get there.
It is vital to realize that some things are beyond our personal control. You do not have to take responsibility for everything! Realizing this allows you to feel less pressure and irritation when things end up going differently than expected. One example is getting stuck in rush hour traffic; there is nothing you can do to change it, so you might as well relax and not get upset about cannot be changed.
Some things that are in your control are avoiding stressful situations (go on a walk if you are around a tense situation), change your outlook to one of positivity and realistic expectation, and get exercise! If possible, avoid stressful situations entirely. This does not necessarily mean you become an “avoider,” but if you are in a place where there are identified stressors, you should leave or take a walk to avoid becoming needlessly involved.
PHYSICAL AND LIFESTYLE CHANGES
EXERCISE – Incorporating physical activity into your everyday routine is one of the easiest and best ways to cope with stress. There is research now that shows even 2-3 minutes of short, but intense, exercise periodically throughout the day can be useful.
Everyone has time to take care of their bodies, even if it is just for minutes throughout the day. Ideally, you would incorporate 30 minutes or more of something you enjoy-dancing, swimming, cycling, walking, or team sports. Your brain releases chemicals and your muscles release tension resulting in a more positive outlook and better sleeping habits.
SLEEP – Sleep is absolutely vital to restoring your brain function and energy and will help you stay on top of what you need to get done. Having trouble sleeping? Check out our articles on sleep deprivation or insomnia for tips and techniques to help you get a good night’s sleep!
DIET – One way we can take our stress control back into our hands is by monitoring the food we are eating during busy/emotionally taxing times.
Some of the best foods for stress relief are: Avocado, banana, tea, Swiss chard, fatty fish, whole wheat pretzels, carrots, milk, yogurt, and nuts. They will give your body the nutrients and useful hormones to combat stress. See our article on foods for improving mood, Choosing Food to Enhance Your Mood with the top 20 mood boosters.
RELATIONSHIPS – One of the best stress releases is talking with a friend or family member. It can improve your mood, help you to relax, and enhance your outlook as you talk through your problems.
Seek out those who truly care for you, call a local crisis phone lines in your county or community, or join a local stress support group. If you are feeling suicidal, call 911 immediately for help.
Best of luck on your journey to health and happiness by choosing positive thoughts over stress!
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This article was written by Jessica Johnson. Jessica is a Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance Health and Wellness Educator. Jessica has a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration in Management with an Economics and International Studies Minor from the University of Central Misouri (UCM). She is currently working as Assistant Manager and Sales Representative in Pacific Grove, California. She was Vice President of Delta Epsilon Iota Honor Society from 2011-2012 and is a sales representative for Young Living Essential Oils Company.
Jessica is passionate about holistic health and healing. The Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance is a registered 501 (c) 3 nonprofit health and wellness education organization. For more information about the Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance contact us or visit our website athttp://www.montereybayholistic.com. All images are copyright free, from http://www.pixabay.com unless otherwise noted.
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