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To Stress or Not To Stress....

To Stress or NOT to Stress? Stress  /stres/ noun noun: stress

  1. pressure or tension exerted on an objec

  2. the degree of pressure exerted on an object measured in units of force per unit area

  3. a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstance.

  4. particular emphasis or importance.

Stress is the body's reaction to any change that requires an adjustment or response. The body reacts to these changes with physical, mental, and emotional responses. Stress is a normal part of life. You can experience stress from your environment, your body, and even your thoughts. When we encounter stress, our body is stimulated to produce stress hormones that trigger a 'flight or fight' response and activate our immune system. This response helps us to respond quickly to dangerous situations. Stress is a normal biological reaction to a situation you perceive as dangerous. When you encounter sudden stress, your brain floods your body with chemicals and hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol.

 Stress is a response to a threat in a situation, whereas anxiety is a reaction to the stress. When you feel threatened, a chemical reaction occurs in your body that allows you to act in a way to prevent injury. During the stress response, your heart rate increases, breathing quickens, muscles tighten, and blood pressure rises. You’re ready to ACT. This is how you were designed to protect yourself.

Stress means different things to different people. What causes stress in one person may be of little concern to another. Some people are better able to handle stress than others. 

Not all stress is bad. In small doses, stress can help you accomplish tasks and prevent you from getting hurt. For example, stress is what gets you to slam on the breaks to avoid hitting the car in front of you. That's a good thing.

Our bodies are designed to handle small doses of stress. However, we are not designed to handle long-term, chronic stress without adverse consequences.

Symptoms of Stress Stress can affect all aspects of your life, including your emotions, behaviors, thinking ability, and physical health. No part of the body is immune to stress. But, because people handle stress differently, symptoms of stress can vary.  There are a number of emotional and physical disorders linked to stress, including depression, anxiety, heart attacks, strokes, gastrointestinal distress, obesity, and hypertension, just to name a few. While stress can manifest in many ways, it helps to know a few common symptoms:

  • Frequent headache

  • Sleep disturbance

  • Back and/or neck pain

  • Feeling light-headed, faint, or dizzy

  • Sweaty palms or feet

  • Difficulty swallowing

  • Frequent illness

  • Irritability

  • Gastrointestinal problems

  • Excessive worry

  • Rapid heart rate

  • Muscle tension

  • Feeling overwhelmed

  • Having difficulty quieting the mind

  • Poor concentration

  • Forgetfulness

  • Low energy

  • Loss of sexual desire

Stress Response: When a person senses danger, the hypothalamus at the base of the brain reacts. It sends nerve and hormone signals to the adrenal glands, which release adrenaline and cortisol.

Adrenaline works to:

  • increase your heartbeat

  • increase your breathing rate

  • make it easier for your muscles to use glucose

  • contract blood vessels so blood is directed to the muscles

  • stimulate perspiration

  • inhibit insulin production

While this is helpful as an acute response, prolonged or frequent adrenaline surges can result in:

Although adrenaline is important, it isn’t the primary stress hormone.  The main stress hormone, cortisol, is essential in stressful situations. Cortisol functions are:

  • raising the amount of glucose in your bloodstream

  • helping the brain use glucose more effectively

  • increasing substances that help with tissue repair

  • altering immune system response

  • inhibiting the reproductive system and growth process

  • affecting parts of the brain controlling fear, motivation, and mood

All this works to help you handle high-stress situations.

If your cortisol levels stay elevated for longer than normal periods, it can have a negative impact on your body. Resulting in:

Coping with Stress

How can you help yourself?

Here are some things you can do to manage stress. It is important to identify, reduce, and remove stressful factors that may cause you to feel overwhelmed and unable to cope. 

1. Realize when it is causing a problem and identify the causes

In managing stress, it is important to realize when it is a problem for you and make a connection between the physical and emotional signs you are experiencing. It is important listen to your body! Pay attention to the physical warning signs such as tense muscles, feeling over-tired, and experiencing headaches or migraines. 

2. Review your lifestyle

Are you taking on too much? 

Are there things you managing that could be handled by someone else?

Can you do things in a more leisurely way? 

Have you prioritized your tasks and commitments? (Reassessing your priorities can help you eliminate unnecessary items) Reorganize your life so that you are not trying to do everything at once.

3. Build supportive relationships Finding close friends or family who can offer support and healthy advice to support you in managing stress. 

  • Joining a club

  • enroll in a course

  • volunteering 

These are good ways of exploring new things to do. Additionally, activities like volunteering can change your perspective and can have a beneficial impact on your mood. It is also important to note if there are specific relationships that are counterproductive. That may be contributing negatively to your state of stress.  4. Eat Healthy There is evidence showing how food affects our mood. Feelings of wellbeing can be fostered by making sure our diet contains adequate amounts of nutrients including essential vitamins and minerals. Eliminate processed foods. Hydration is also a key component. 5. Habits

Smoking is a stressor in itself. When you combine smoking with a high-stress lifestyle you are compacting the adverse effects.  They may seem to reduce tension at the moment, but in fact they can make problems worse. Alcohol and caffeine can increase anxiety and depression.

6. Exercise

Physical exercise is a great way to approach managing the effects of stress. Walking, and other physical activities release endorphins which can elevate the mood. It doesn’t need to be a long workout routine. Something as minimal as a 15-minute walk is very beneficial. 

7. Take Time Out

One of the ways you can reduce stress is by taking time to do positive things for yourself.  Striking a balance between responsibility to others and responsibility to yourself is vital in reducing stress levels. 

8. Be Mindful

Mindfulness meditation can be practiced anywhere at any time. Research has suggested it can be helpful for managing and reducing the effect of stress, anxiety, and other related problems in some people. 

9. Get some restful sleep

Sleep disturbance is common if you are under an increased amount of stress. However, sleep disturbances can also CAUSE a perception of increased stress at times.... The cycle can be vicious.  If you are having difficulty sleeping, you can try to reduce the amount of caffeine you consume and avoid too much screen time before bed. 

10. Don't be too hard on yourself

Try to keep things in perspective and don't be too hard on yourself. Look for things in your life that are positive. Our self talk can also add to our stress level. Speak to yourself with love and patience…this will make a greater impact on your health in time. 

Additional considerations:

As we already discussed, your diet plays a huge role in your mental health! “Cheat days” may help you feel better in that moment, but the effects of that meal decision can adversely effect the body for days or even WEEKS to come. 

Biofeedback sessions and essential oils can help with mood disorders, anxiety, depression and stress management. 

There are also herbal tea remedies and tinctures that can provide assistance as well.

Most importantly- If you feel that you are no longer able to manage things on your own, do not be afraid to seek professional help. Many people feel reluctant to seek help as they feel that it is an admission of failure. This is not the case! It is important to get help as soon as possible so you can begin to feel better. Contact your physician or a mental health counselor.


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