Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Stress! How Much Control Does It Have Over Your Life?

Your heart pounds.  Your muscles tighten and your stomach churns.  Your hands get clammy and you start to sweat.  Or your breathing may get so shallow you think you might pass out.  And, this is a chronic thing occurring in your life, right?

What’s going on?  These are typical responses to stress.  Your body is responding in an automatic and primitive way to a perceived danger.  Medical experts call it the fight or flight syndrome.

Here’s what happens.  Before you even have a chance to think about it, a stressful situation kicks off cascade of physiologic changes, starting with a flood of hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, often called the stress hormone.  These biological and chemical messengers put the body on heightened alert and prepare us for whatever may happen next.

As a basic mechanism for survival, the fight or flight response may have been a good idea in prehistoric times.  After all, we may have had to fend off attack from a predator or run for our lives.

But it’s not so helpful today when the stressor isn’t a wild animal, but a traffic jam, pressure at work, conflict with a spouse, too many tasks on our “to do” list or an uncomfortable social situation.

Unfortunately, our body is blind to the cause of our stress.  It simply continues to respond the same way it always has.  And that’s the problem.  In prehistoric times, once the stressor was removed, our heart rate returned to normal, our blood pressure went down and our muscles relaxed.

But today, the stressors we perceive as harmful may never completely go away.  We may live under a state of chronic, low-level stress, especially if we are dealing with conflict on a daily basis or frequently feel overwhelmed with our fast-paced lives.

Some people may find their stress is caused by an inability to control difficult situations in their personal or professional lives.  Others may have a very high set of expectations for themselves and what they want to accomplish.  That can be stressful, too.

A little bit of stress can be motivating. Too much can push us over the edge.  Over time, stress can be very damaging to our physical, mental and emotional health.  Our bodies can become exhausted dealing with the constant onslaught of stress hormones and corresponding physiological responses.  When that happens, there can be serious consequences.  Chronic stress is linked to a surprising number of health issues:

  • Heart disease & heart attacks
  • Asthma
  • Impaired immune system making you more susceptible to colds and viruses
  • Depression & anxiety
  • Nervous habits, including nail biting, teeth grinding or clenching
  • Constant tension  & inability to relax
  • Eating disorders & gastrointestinal problems
  • Obesity, especially fat accumulating around the waist
  • Blood sugar fluctuation and type 2 diabetes
  • Sleep problems & insomnia
  • Brain-related problems, such as memory issues, inability to concentrate and focus
  • Stroke
  • Headaches
  • Back pain & unexplained muscle pain
  • Some skin conditions, including psoriasis & eczema
  • Lethargy & fatigue
So what can you do to prevent stress burnout?

First, it’s important to recognize what triggers your stress and to determine if there is anything you can do about it.  Stress may be part of our modern life, but there may be steps you can take to reduce its impact on your life.  If you can’t change an unpleasant situation, perhaps you can change your attitude about it.  Ask for help.  Let go of tasks that are low priority.  Take time to relax and rest.  Get enough sleep.   Learn to communicate differently.

Regular exercise can be an excellent way to reduce stress.  So can learning relaxation techniques like deep breathing, taking up Yoga, having a body massage, listening to music or being sexually intimate.  In addition, it’s important to eat well and follow your doctor’s advice on vitamins, nutritional supplements and similar recommendations.

Left unchecked, stress can end your life. This is not to be taken lightly. Don’t let stress take over your life and leave you physically damaged and mentally impaired.  For more information about how you can reduce your stress levels and boost your well being, schedule a consultation with Dr. Rosenstein and the Southwest Age Intervention Institute.

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