Humans have long ago developed the ability to respond to a stressful situation instantly, by preparing the body for “fight or flight.” Under sudden stress, you will get a burst adrenaline that gives you exceptional strength and endurance, as your body pumps out stress hormones.
Your heart speeds up
Blood flow to your brain and muscles increases up to 400 percent
Your digestion stops (so it doesn’t use up energy that’s needed elsewhere)
Your muscle tension increases
You breathe faster, to bring more oxygen to your muscles
This is really beneficial if you are being chased by an angry mob or have to lift a car off of your cat, fluffy.
But much of the time in modern life, the “fight or flight” response won’t help. Yet those stress hormones still flood your system, preparing you for physical action. And if you are under stress frequently, it can harm your physical health.
Recent evidence indicates that the physical changes associated with stress may contribute to the leading causes of death – heart disease and cancer.
The effects of stress on your overall health include the following:
- Stress can:
- cause chronic fatigue, digestive upsets, headaches, and back pain.
- affect the blood cells that help you fight off infection, so you are more likely to get colds and other diseases.
- increase blood pressure and can increase the risk for stroke.
- increase the danger of heart attacks, particularly if you are often angry and paranoid .
- make an asthma attack worse.
- trigger behaviors that contribute to death and disability, such as smoking, alcoholism, drug abuse, and overeating.
- lead to diminished sexual desire and an inability to achieve orgasm.
- Stress makes it harder to take other steps to improve health, such as giving up smoking or making changes in diet.
So what are can you do to reduce the effects of stress on your health. You probably can’t quit your job and move to a Caribbean island and hang on the beach all day. I really like that idea. So here are some practical ideas to help you cope with modern life.
Exercise regularly. The many benefits of cardiovascular exercise are well documented and I’m sure you’re as familiar with them as am I, but honestly I am not a gym person. For me, there is nothing more effective at dissipating tension than about a 30 brisk walk with a friend. This way I can exercise my body and catch up on the latest skinny at the same time.
Get plenty of sleep. If I’m tired, then it compounds the stress I accumulate throughout the day. I strive to get seven to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep. Of course, it doesn’t always work out for me but I have a plan to get into bed each night by 11:00 and most times stick to it. I also reduce my water consumption after about 6pm so I don’t have to wake up to use the bathroom 20 times in the night.
Give up or lessen caffeine intake. I know this is radical, but please do not stop reading. Caffeine is, of course, a stimulant. I am not able to consume anything with caffeine in it. But if you drink tea or coffee and have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep – experiment with cutting back on the amount and/or the hour of the day that you consume your last caffeinated beverage. For many a cut off of mid afternoon does the trick.
Don’t Hold A Grudge. How many nights have you tried to go to sleep and you lay there and stew about something that was said that day that really offended you? I know it can be hard to forgive some things. However, when we hold on to our grudges, we do more damage to ourselves than to the other person. Chances are that the person you are mad at is sleeping like a baby. The sweetest revenge is a good night sleep and forgiving heart. It makes you unstoppable.
Eliminate debt. Money is a source of stress for many of us. Of course, it is the poor way we manage our money that really creates the stress. While not easy, I find that living within your means really eliminates the nighttime bill paying blues. I think that would make a great country song title.
Get outdoors. I enjoy the beauty of nature. It gets my mind off of the things that stress me out. I also find the sun, wind, and sounds of nature soothing. It puts me in the moment. Nature does not worry about the future or past it goes about its way and does its thing.
Spend time alone. I need time alone to think and clear my head. When I’m alone for an hour or two, I feel refreshed and rejuvenated. I spend a lot of my time planning the events of the next day or week and once I have a plan in place my mind calms and I am able to sleep.
Meditate. Meditation means a lot of different things to different people. I am merely suggesting that you spend time focusing your thoughts on positive things. You can pray, use positive affirmations, or just think about positive things you have read. By intentionally directing my thoughts, I can lower my stress. If you have a “wild” mind like mine it can be hard to empty my head of thoughts so I use a lot of affirmations. These positive statements really can change your outlook.
Avoid Worrying. Worry is definitely a source of stress. This is a huge one for me, I am a chronic worrier. As I age I have come to realize how much time I have spent up at night worrying about things that either never happened or were not as bad as I spent hours anticipating that they would be. I want that time back. Since that isn’t’t going to happen, I have made a serious promise to myself not to worry until I absolutely need to, and so far, it has worked out pretty well. One of my favorite sayings is “Worry is the interest owed on a debt not yet incurred” I wouldn’t pay interest on a credit card without a balance so why worry about something that hasn’t happened yet.
Take a break. When was the last time you took a day off to relax? The whole concept of vacation and recreation were conceived of for a reason. We have to give our minds and bodies a break occasionally. When we do, we are able to let go of the stress and return with a fresh outlook on life. I try to take short breaks like three-day weekends from time-to-time. I also try to take off at least two full weeks during the year. This gives me time to relieve stress and avoid burnout.
Lighten-up. This is always easier said than done. Anyone that has known me for any period of time knows that I am ultra intense. Everything is really serious, has to be done now and perfectly. I have had to really work at being light hearted, (not sure I have mastered that)and it has taken me years, I am slow, to realize that very few things are really psychotically crucial. And, here is the clincher for me, I have learned that by taking some extra time the end result is actually better and I have enjoyed the process more. Learning to laugh at your mistakes and your humanness is an awesome way to reduce stress. I am learning to say “Who cares”, more. Yes there are things that matter and should be attended to in a timely manner but not everything. That kind of pressure is too much. So pick a task and really enjoy it. Learn to relax and enjoy the ride.
Eat Foods that Support Good Health – By eating the food that is really good for our body we are ready to take on the world. Drinking lots of water hydrates the body. Our mind and body works faster and more efficient when we are fully hydrated. Eat leafy greens and whole grains. These are the power food that protect our immune system and helps our organs function as they were meant to. Eat small portions of protein. Protein gives us the staying power and strength we need as well as supplies us with B12 that helps to regulate our outlook and mood. Fruits and vegetables supply necessary vitamins, nutrients and fiber that keep it all moving. A healthy digestive tract that has a transit time of less than 14 hours helps us to feel clean and think clearly.
If your body is in a healthy state it can handle whatever comes your way.
By trying some or all of these ideas you will reduce the stress in your life. Once you do that you will feel happier, healthier and look better than you have in a long time.