Many times while talking in groups, the topic of stress comes up. Although odd, it seems that most people laugh about their stress level or brag about how their life is more stressful than the person next to them. Unfortunately, high levels of stress are no laughing matter. It is becoming more and more evident that stress is a major causal factor is disease.
Without boring everybody with the neurology of the stress response, I will make it as simple as possible. When our body is in a stressful situation, it will always intelligently respond with the stress response. So think about a stressful situation; maybe it is when you are driving down the freeway running late to your child’s soccer game and as you come around the corner you see the Highway Patrol car parked along the roadside with the infamous radar gun out the window. Or, maybe it is when you are working to meet that last minute deadline at work and your boss is breathing down your neck. In these situations, your body responds with a few things that we realize and a whole lot more that we do not realize.
During the stress response, your body will do the following things that you will likely notice:
- Increase Heart Rate
- Increase Blood Pressure
- Increase feelings of stress, fear, anxiety and depression
- Decrease short term memory, the ability to concentrate and the ability to learn new material
- Increase Catecholamines (Fight or Flight Hormones)
Also during the stress response, your body will do the following things that you are not as likely to notice:
- Increase Cortisol
- Increase Vasoconstriction
- Increase Blood Glucose Levels
- Increase protein degradation of muscle and connective tissue
- Increase Blood Cholesterol Levels (Increase LDL/Bad Cholesterol:Decrease HDL/Good Cholesterol)
- Decrease Cellular Immunity
- Decrease Natural Anabolic Hormones (i.e. Growth Hormone, Testosterone)
According to Science Daily there are two likely pathways that stress leads to disease. “One is behavioral -- people under stress sleep poorly and are less likely to exercise; they adopt poor eating habits, smoke more and don't comply with medical treatment. Stress also triggers a response by the body's endocrine systems, which release hormones that influence multiple other biological systems, including the immune system.”
And, Sheldon Cohen, author of the article that Science Daily references, goes on to state that the "Effects of stress on regulation of immune and inflammatory processes have the potential to influence depression, infectious, autoimmune, and coronary artery disease, and at least some (e.g., viral) cancers."
There are many healthy ways to address the issue of excessive stress. Adopting a healthy lifestyle is one of the most effective ways to manage stress. A healthy lifestyle includes regular exercise, sufficient, quality sleep and a healthy diet. Your healthy diet should focus on regular, balanced meals spread out throughout the day. It is recommended that those looking to address issues of stress limit caffeine and sugar intake and avoid alcohol, cigarettes and drugs.
It is also important to take care of your needs as an individual. For many people, this includes setting aside time to relax, making time for positive people who enhance life and taking time for enjoyable activities. Some examples of these things are going for a walk, calling a close friend, running a bubble bath, read a book, get a massage or play with a family pet.
Another great way to address stress is to simply avoid stressful situations. To do this, one must learn to say “No,” avoid people that add stress to your life, and prioritize the daily To-Do lists. By taking control of the environment each day brings, one can be sure to decrease stress and likely decrease the chance of sickness and disease.