Stress. We hear the word every day, but what does it really mean?
Stress is a naturally occurring physiological reaction created by the human body to help motivate us into action. Originally an adaptive mechanism to save us from being eaten by a sabre-toothed tiger by triggering the well-known flight or fight reaction, stress, when appropriately triggered, is necessary for our survival.
During a stressful state the adrenal glands, located on the superior portion of the kidneys release neuro-chemicals called adrenalin and noradrenalin (or epinephrine and norepinephrine) these neurochemicals cause a cascade of physiological events in our bodies priming us for the flight or fight reaction.
These physiological changes might include:
- Dilation (narrowing) of the blood vessels
- Increased glucose and release of glycogen stores
- Shut down of the digestive system
- Re-distribution of blood flow and nutrition from digestive and reproductive organs
- Increased heart rate
- Reduced Immune function
What happens in our modern day lives, lives that for many, trigger the stress response continually from events like relationship changes, mortgage repayments, work, traffic jams, the stock market crashing, running late for meetings etc.? All these very real stressors trigger the same neurochemicals that your body would produce if you were face to face with a grizzly bear, but often on a day to day basis, depending upon your lifestyle.
When you are living in this constant state of ‘stress response’, our body is not capable to work at its optimum level, and you experience the symptoms typically now describe as ‘feeling stressed’, including increased anxiety levels, sleep disruption, feeling of constant worry, loss of appetite, jittery ‘butterflies in the stomach’ feeling, pain, exhaustion, elevated blood pressure, fatigue, poor concentration and mental anguish.
So what can you do to relieve stress in your life as part of your regular well-being regime?
- Breathing: How many of you hold your breath or shallow breath? Place your hand on your abdomen and take 10 deep breaths making sure that you can see your hand move with each breath. Try to do this 3 times a day. Especially before you eat as the expansion of the diaphragm actual helps to turn off the fight or flight response and promote digestion. This is also an excellent exercise to do before you go to sleep, especially if you have an active brain at night.
- Takes steps in your life to reduce your stressors: Get counselling for that relationship, and hire a cleaning lady so you have more time to spend with your partner or kids. Take a holiday; leave work early one day a week.
- Start achieving your life goals: How many of you feel like you sacrificed your dreams for ‘that other thing?’ This is one of the biggest stressors I see in clinic. Write down the things you wish to achieve in your life, and start taking steps to achieve them, even if they are little ones. Quit making excuse that it is impossible or that it’s too hard, they are nothing less than excuses. There is nothing that the human can’t achieve if you put your heart and soul behind it, that is really why we are here, it’s not to be miserable in a job that you hate just so you can pay off that massive mortgage, there is more to life than that.
- Exercise: Exercising is a great way to release pent up stress and energy, improve your health, feel better and gain more energy. Something that almost everyone wants, there is no magic trick to this. You just have to make the effort and exercise, even if it’s just going for a walk with the dog 4 nights a week.
- Listen to relaxing music: Music is one of the fastest and most powerful ways to help us feel relaxed. Songs can touch our souls; music should be a part of our daily lives.
- Meditation: Meditation is a great way to spend time with ourselves; it helps us to realize what our real priorities and what our dreams are. Meditating every day is a great way to release stress, even if you do it for just 5 minutes every day.
- Take a holiday: I’m not just talking about packing your bags and leaving the state. Take a holiday from the job, the relationship, the kids (yes it is okay to want to take a holiday from your kids!); take a holiday from your stressors. This will help you to gain a better prospective on your life and what you can do to improve it. We often get so caught up in our lives it’s hard to see the bigger picture when you are ‘in’ your stress all the time.
- Remember: This too shall pass.