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The Dangers of Stress

6 Dec

S-T-R-E-S-S. That little word sends shudders through most people.  Everyone knows the feeling, your heart starts racing, you start sweating through that meticulously ironed shirt of yours, you feel like you just might faint…

Stress can result from lots of different things. Work, your weight, your love life, friendships, money, and the list goes on and on.  Stress has a bigger impact on your life than all the other things you do to stay healthy!  With the holiday season in full swing I thought it appropriate to remind everyone why they should take a moment to relax during the stressful holiday season (kind of an oxymoron don’t you think? A stressful holiday…anyways…)  Even if you exercise a ton, get lots of sleep and eat your fruits and veggies you can still die at an early age if you live under a constant cloud of stress. Why you ask? I’m so glad you did! Read on for a run down on just what stress does to your body…

Within moments of feeling stressed, your body begins the protocols of “fight or flight”. I’m sure you’ve heard of it.  In the days of the cavemen, when we were faced with a foe, our bodies automatically begin to prepare to either fight the beast or run like hell.  It saved us from life-threatening situations.  Now those work deadlines are interpreted in the same way and our bodies prepares for battle.  First, your body triggers a release of cortisol, which also happens to be a hormone that is tied to weight gain.  Your body will also release a surge of adrenaline into the bloodstream which pumps up our muscles and allows us to run longer and faster. Think of hulking out in a less green and brutish fashion.  When your stress response is in full gear your senses become heightened, you can focus and think more clearly, and be prepared to react to whatever comes your way.

Now your flight or fight response is great when there’s a crazy person or a bear chasing you, however your body cannot distinguish between physical threats and psychological threats, so when that deadline is causing you to flip out, your body responds the same way it would if you just saw a hungry mountain lion pouncing on the attack.

If you are stressed out or have a lot of responsibilities for most of your life, your “flight or fight” response is also on during that time, forcing your body to behave like the world is about to blow up and that’s when it get bad for your health.  The more frequently your body’s response is turned on, the harder it becomes to turn it off.   Chronic stress disrupts practically every system in your body. It can raise blood pressure, suppress the immune system, increase the risk of heart attack and stroke, contribute to infertility, and speed up the aging process.  Prolonged periods of stress can put you in an early grave.  Some studies show that long periods of stress can even rewire the brain, which leaves you always on high alert and can cause lots of anxiety and even depression.

So what CAN you do to prevent stress or alleviate it once it’s happened?  Firstly, you need to recognize the symptoms of stress which sometimes can be very subtle.

Stress Warning Signs and Symptoms
Cognitive Symptoms Emotional Symptoms
  • Memory problems
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Poor judgment
  • Seeing only the negative
  • Anxious or racing thoughts
  • Constant worrying
  • Moodiness
  • Irritability or short temper
  • Agitation, inability to relax
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Sense of loneliness and isolation
  • Depression or general unhappiness
Physical Symptoms Behavioral Symptoms
  • Aches and pains
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Nausea, dizziness
  • Chest pain, rapid heartbeat
  • Loss of sex drive
  • Frequent colds
  • Eating more or less
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Isolating yourself from others
  • Procrastinating or neglecting responsibilities
  • Using alcohol, cigarettes, or drugs to relax
  • Nervous habits (e.g. nail biting, pacing)

(chart borrowed from here)

Obviously, all of these symptoms could have a medical or psychological reason behind them, but it is also likely that it is stress that are causing these problems.  So how do you de-stress you life?

Learn how to RELAX!  When your boss starts yelling at you about a deadline or the last of that “must have toy” of the Christmas season in the hour radius from your house you wanted for your tike just landed in the cart of that au pair in front of you, don’t panic.  Take 10 slow deep breaths and ask yourself “is my life going to end if I don’t xyz”.  More than likely the answer will be no.  Take stock of that and then create a game plan.

To tamp down on stress before it even hits take up something that you find relaxing and try to do it for at least 30 minutes everyday.  For me it’s to make sure I exercise at least every day and I try to write my thoughts in a journal daily. It keeps me sane and grounded. Some other ideas are meditation, yoga, cooking, or anything that YOU find relaxing.  There’s no one pill for everyone solution here.

Stress, unfortunately, has become fairly commonplace in our everyday lives today.  So you need to learn how to manage it when it occurs. What do you find works? Is it deep breaths, going for a walk around your office or the block, giving your dog (or cat a hung), or simply talking to a friend?  Find what works for you (or a combination of things) and then do that.  The key here is to manage your stress before it manages you.  You’re too young to be shopping for headstones right….RIGHT?!?!

Here’s a little comic I found that I thought was what you DON’T want to turn into!!!

Keep Sweating!

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