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Stress Reduction and Management


Stress is implicated as one of the top silent killers today with physical, psychological, behavioral and chronic effects. It is also a key contributor to many lifestyle diseases such as; diabetes, heart disease, anxiety, depression and countless degenerative disease processes.

Continual background stress and major stress events slowly chip away at our health like cracks in a foundation until illness or disease begins to creep into your life. This ongoing bombardment of, ‘big things’ and ‘little things’ will slowly wear you down unless you actively make changes. Studies have shown that over 80% of all doctor visits and hospital admissions can be attributed directly or indirectly to stress, thus proving that stress has clear and devastating physical consequences well beyond the mental anguish.

Most of today’s stress results from non-physical causes; in this sense, feelings of stress can last quite some time. If not controlled, stress never goes away and actually begins to get a life of its own. Constant states of stress, and even long periods are decidedly unhealthful. Your body’s stress response was created to deal primarily with imminent physical danger. Our existence in the helter-skelter modern world is decidedly not something that the body has adapted to well, as the rise in cancers, heart disease, obesity, and mental illness clearly reflect.

There are two main categories of stress:

  • Acute stress which is experienced in the short term and
  • Chronic stress which persists over the long term.

Acute stressors can arise from within the body (illness, poor diet, lack of sleep) or from without (traffic jams, disagreements, etc). Chronic stress is present for weeks or months, or even years at a time. Examples of chronic stressors include; financial challenges, relationship difficulty, and even the never ending daily stressors experienced day in and day out can be perceived as chronic stress on the mind and body.

Unfortunately, your body really cannot discern between truly life threatening stress and mere trifles of daily life. All such events that elicit stress in our mind will set off a cascade of events that will physically manifest stress in the body. The adrenal glands release the hormones epinephrine (adrenaline), norepinephrine and cortisol when stress occurs. These chemicals orchestrate the physiology of the body to get ready to fight or take flight – the heart begins pumping harder and faster, blood flow increases to the muscles and away from the digestive tract, and the mind reacts with anxiety, rather than calm. From this very brief description, you can see that the optimal state for health is not a state of alarm, ready to fight or take flight. It is this chronic state of ‘emergency preparedness’ that contributes to the long-term detriment from ongoing stress.

Bodily Effects of Stress

Stress exerts its negative affects in three main areas of the body. Mental well being, physical health, and the hormonal system can all be affected in varying ways by stress.

When you feel stressed, anxious or just plain overwhelmed, a part of your brain called the hypothalamus signals another part of your brain, the pituitary, that in turn sends out chemicals to your adrenal “stress glands” in your lower back thus triggering a deadly and precarious domino effect. This entire scenario occurs in mere seconds which would be great if a Tiger were chasing you as opposed to merely thinking about whether you will have time to eat lunch or if you will make it to work with that huge traffic jam in front of you.

Mentally, too much of the hormone cortisol can lead to weight gain and craving for high-sugar foods. Cortisol can also make one feel depressed; have foggy thinking, and problems making decisions. Sadly enough, the damage does not stop there and even free-radical damage to your cells arises when you are stressed. All of these effects can in turn cause more depression and unhappiness triggering a downward spiral, hence the importance to make sure that from this day forward you become Pro-Active about your stress management plan.

Physically, cortisol also has other nasty side effects on the body. High levels of cortisol can suppress one’s immune system, making that person more susceptible to getting ill and other diseases. Other effects of elevated cortisol include cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, Type 2 diabetes and functional decline. When cortisol is produced in high amounts over a period of time, the adrenal glands may reach a point where they cannot sustain the demand for this hormone, and finally stop producing as much. This situation is known as adrenal fatigue, and this comes with many side effects such as poor sleep and fatigue.

Hormonal responses exert almost drastic changes on the body. Again, one of the primary stress hormones is cortisol, which is accompanied by epinephrine and norepinephrine when stress levels are high. Excessive levels of these hormones all contribute to rapid aging, fatigue, poor sleep and a number of other physical manifestations.

So what does all of this mean?
When one is stressed out all or much of the time, these are the most worrisome health effects that chronic stress can directly cause.

  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Insomnia
  • Prematurely Aging Skin
  • Migraines and Stress-Tension Headaches
  • Impaired immune system
  • Cardiac (heart) stress
  • Circulatory problems
  • Premature aging
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Mental Health Domino Effect
  • Stomach and Intestinal Tract Problems
  • Inflammatory conditions and pain
  • Weight management issues
  • Nutrient depletion
  • Intestinal Tract Problems

Continuing to experience stress without making any lifestyle or supportive changes will ensure that negative health outcomes become compounded within the body.

Reducing one’s stress is of course not always an easy task. Stress is everywhere in the news and in conversations between friends, family and co-workers, yet few know how to help identify their personal areas of distress and reduce or better manage their stress to healthy levels.

The medical research, tools, and combined agreements on healthy behaviors are well established. This information is provided in order to help you get personal about what stress is doing to your health and quality of life. The following ‘8 Steps to Stress Success’ can take you far in leading a long, healthy and productive life. The journey begins with having success in Step 1, which takes you out of the bombardment of information on all that stress can do to you and into the areas of highest impact for you to focus on for your own health and quality of life.

8 Steps to Stress Success

Step 1:
Assess your stress level with a scientifically developed stress test and take an honest look at your results. Get personal in the case of stress, because what you don’t know about this silent killer’s effect can hurt you and decrease your life span.

Step 2:
Develop a healthy living plan including coping strategies that keep your body and mind resilient. Draw from your strengths such as optimism, courage, humor, appreciation of nature, and spirituality to succeed. Discuss it with family and your medical practitioner.

Step 3:
Exercise to strengthen your body’s natural ability to recover from stress. Exercise is one of the most cost effective anti-stress and anti-aging treatments available. The American Heart Association says that for every hour of exercise you add two hours to your life.

Step 4:
Eat balanced meals and practice mindful eating. Avoid high-fat, high sugar comfort foods. Be aware that stress can make you overweight. Hydrate and add doctor-recommended nutritional supplements that help to calm you, increase your ability to adapt, and help protect you from free radical damage.

Step 5:
Sleep is when your body restores, heals and even problem solves. Make a commitment to get a minimum of 6 and ideally 8 hours of sleep a night. Distress can interrupt sleep so practice good Sleep Hygiene – keeping one’s environment and activities as it relates to sleep in good order.

Step 6:
Acknowledge and express your emotions in healthy ways. Suppressing strong emotions can cause sharp increases in blood pressure, heart rate, over eating, and muscle tension. And stress’s effect on hormones can seriously decrease sexual activity with your partner, increasing the chance for negative emotions to build up.

Step 7:
Cultivate positive relationships and social connections. Research suggests that social support affects life span as much as blood pressure, smoking, and exercise habits. Encourage your connections to support you in your stress management plan.

Step 8:
Practice mind-body relaxation techniques, such as slow, regular breathing, guided imagery, mindfulness meditation, and biofeedback. In stressful times, use these practices to increase your ability to stay happy and relaxed. You will combat the stress confusion factor that can impair decision-making, critical thinking, and good judgment.

As you follow these 8 Steps to Stress Success and well being, trust yourself and learn to listen to your mind and body. The first humans were hard wired for Fight or Flight and it is true today. Use your stress coping and relaxation skills, access personal and professional relationships, increase positive moments and life experiences, and use whatever tools, products and services that increases your health, vitality, peace of mind, and quality of your daily life.

Summary

Unfortunately stress is an ongoing part of daily life. Whether you must endure the major life stressors such as; financial difficulties or a challenging relationship, or just stress from the daily grind, the effects over the short and long term are unmistakable.

Stress contributes to several health conditions that can even be life threatening. The more one suffers from stress, the greater their risk of disease and discomfort. Identifying one’s stressors and how to cope with them is the first step in creating a life in which stress has little effect. Additionally, supporting the body with nutritional support, proper sleep, exercise and adaptogens will provide a resilient body that can cope with anything, without the negative health effects of uncontrolled stress.

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Health Tips On the Go!

Improve Posture

  • 1.Avoid slouching. Be aware of your posture as you walk, sit, and drive, keep shoulders squared and head pulled back and up.

  • 2.Imagine a thread pulling the top of your head toward the ceiling. Visualization can help improve your sense of position.

  • 3.If your job requires you to sit for long periods, take frequent breaks to stand, stretch and shake it out.

  • 4.Maintain a strong core to help support proper posture. Add core-training exercises to your daily routine.

  • 5.A firm mattress and ergonomic pillow help achieve proper back support while you sleep, so you'll stand straighter in the a.m.

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