Stress is a Significant Health Risk
There is good stress: a job promotion, a wedding proposal, news of a new baby, a graduation, etc., and there is bad stress: a divorce, job loss, illness and injury, the death of a loved one, etc. Also, there is stress in the form of panic—the fight or flight syndrome that our body is hard-wired to respond to in times of threat, such as when a predator stalks us to be on its lunch menu. Oh, that hasn’t happened to you recently? It doesn’t matter, your body still responds to everyday stressors in the same way, whether you are battling a huge workload, you don’t have enough money to keep you going through the month or any number of other life problems. Your body responds to these threats in your life exactly the same way as if you were about to battle a mountain lion – it’s a perceived as a threat. This is called the ‘fight or flight’ response.
Biologically, your body responds to stress in the same way no matter the cause. When you encounter a perceived threat — any perceived threat — it activates your hypothalamus, a small part of the brain that sets off a sort of biological tag team that engages signals in the nervous system in the body, which alert your adrenal glands to dump a surge of hormones in the blood stream such as adrenaline and cortisol. Then, the adrenaline causes your heart rate to increase, raises your blood pressure and engages stored energy supplies. Cortisol is the primary stress hormone, and it increases the release of blood sugars while enhancing the brain’s use of glucose and boosts tissue repair in the event of injury.
That may sound very exciting, but there’s a draw-back. This whole process takes up the majority of your energy, weakening other essential biological systems such as diminishing immune system functions, suppressing digestive functions, reduces functionality in the reproductive system and growth processes. It also works to alter emotions associated with mood, motivation, aggression and fear.
When High Stress Lingers
This biological mechanism to respond to high stress is meant to be a “quick fix” designed to be used during short occurrences in moments of extreme threats. And, once the perceived threat is gone, the body calms, and regular functioning resumes and returns to a normal, healthy state. However, when high stress is ever-present, this fight-or-flight system doesn’t turn off, and the body doesn’t return to functioning normally, compromising balance and creating a dangerous storm within.
The long-term activation of the stress alarm system can disrupt nearly all of your body’s systems. This high-intensity imbalance can wreak havoc on both physiological and psychological status and creates serious problems:
- Illness- caused by compromised immune system
- Digestive problems
- Heart disease
- Weight gain
- Sleep problems
- Memory and concentration impairment
Stress is a part of life, and there is no way to prevent stress. You also may not be able to change your current situation. The best remedy for dealing with chronic stress is to find ways to manage it before stressors become a chronic state of perceived, unmanageable threat in your life. You can learn to identify what triggers the most stress in your life and learn to care for yourself physically and emotionally during stressful situations.
- Eat a healthy diet, avoiding processed and high-calorie ‘comfort’ foods.
- Regular exercise – do something active daily
- Maintain a healthy sleep schedule
- Practice relaxation and/or meditation techniques
- Develop and maintain healthy, supportive friendships
- Have fun, do things you enjoy, laugh
- Use a natural remedy that helps alleviate stress symptoms
- Seek professional help through a physician and/or psychologist when needed
Since prolonged stress can have such a negative impact upon your physical and mental health, don’t hesitate to get professional help if you are not able to deal with your stress on your own. You may need a combination of exercise, counseling, natural relaxants, and spiritual guidance to help achieve long lasting peace and contentment.