According to studies* stress does cause long term or chronic effects on the body. For example. Did you know that chronic stress can result in high blood pressure, abnormal heartbeat and heart failure? People with lots of stress also often have muscle pain, neck an shoulder pain and increased pain from rheumatoid arthritis. American businesses loose and estimated $200 – $300 billion dollars a year to stress related productivity loss and other costs and every week about 95 million Americans suffer some kind of stress related symptom that they take medication for.
But what is Stress exactly?
According to Lesa Burnha in her article ‘Stress your worst enemy’ 2004, Stress is not only a fact of life but a necessary one in small doses. Stress provides the energy boost we need to tackle life’s little hurdles each day. It can be caused by both good and bad experiences. Stress is a signal to the body to release chemicals that give you more energy and strength, which can be a good thing if you are in danger. But constant release of these chemicals over prolonged periods without an outlet can be bad for your health, even deadly.
Essentially there are four types of stress.
- Survival stress – this s the fight or flight response to physical danger. It is found in all people and animals. The body provides a burst of energy so you can survive a dangerous situation, fight, or escape, flight.
- Internal stress – is the stress most often caused by worry. Worry about things you have no control over is one of the most important types of stress to understand and control. Some people even get addicted to the hurried and tense lifestyle that results in chronic internal stress. These are the people that always seem to have something going on in their lives that induces stress.
- Environmental stress – is a reaction to things around you like constant noise, crowding and pressure at work or from family. You know how you have to have the TV or radio on when you are working. You may not realize it but that constant noise can add to your stress.
- Stress from overwork and tiredness – builds up over time. If you have difficulty managing your time this is a type of stress you may experience. It is also the stress that comes from an inability to relax and let go.
While a little stress is normal and necessary, constant or chronic stress, of periods of high stress from things like a foreclosure, losing a job and looking for work these days, or the loss of a loved one can cause physical and mental symptoms that ultimately compound the problem as well as adding new ones.
Common Physical Symptoms of Stress include
- Rapid heartbeat
- Stiff neck
- Tight shoulders
- Rapid Breathing
- Sweaty Palms
- Upset Stomach
- GERD or Gastriesophageal Reflux Disease
- COPD or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease
- Back Pain
- Muscle Tension
- Shortness of Breath
- Chest Pain
- Feeling Faint or Dizzy
- Ringing in the ears
- Loss of appetite
- Hives or rashes
And this is the short list.
Stress can also affect your mind and your ability to think.
Some of the effects of stress on the mind include
- Trouble focusing or thinking clearly
- Harder to learn new things
- Negative thoughts
- Accident Prone
- Nail biting
Just to name a few.
Have I gotten your attention now?
It is no wonder people are flocking to the doctors these days to get medication to treat some of these stress related issues. Scientists know that when you are experiencing more stress than usual the Serotonin, Noradrenalin, and dopamine in the brain begin to malfunction. Serotonin helps you sleep and sets your body clock. Noradrenalin gives you energy and dopamine gives pleasure and relieves pain. Doctors will give you medications that help your body regulate these and other chemical processes, but what are the side effects.
With the current climate of foreclosures and job scarcity it is no wonder more people are turning to the doctors for help. And, while there is little you can do to control the outside world, you can learn to control how you react to it and you can learn methods that will help you control your stress so you don’t become one of the statistics.
Please REMEMBER, However, the suggestions I offer here are only a few of the things you can do. Under NO CIRCUMSTANCES should you stop any medications you may be currently taking without discussing it with your physician first. Use of any of these methods is purely voluntary and at your own risk. If you experience symptoms that may be life threatening like diabetes, chest pain or even hives for example seek medical help immediately. Now, with that said let’s try to reduce some of your stress shall we.
Laughter is the Best Medicine – the ability to laugh is probably the best holistic remedy available to beat stress. Did you know that when you laugh your body releases toxins and laughter activates your immune system?
Research results**indicate that there is a general increase in the activity of the immune system after exposure to humor. Some of these include
- Increased number of natural killer cells that attack and kill infected cells and some types of CANCER and tumor cells.
- Increase in activated T lymphocytes (T cells)
- Increase in IgA or immunoglobulin A which fights infections of the upper respiratory tract
- Increase in gamma interferon which ‘turns on’ various components of the immune system
- A decrease in Stress hormones such as epinephrine that constrict blood vessels and suppress immune activity
- Decreased levels of dopamine which involves the ‘fight or flight’ response
Laughter is aerobic and provides a workout for the diaphragm and increases your body’s ability to utilize oxygen more effectively. Laughter is a powerful distraction from pain when used in conjunction to congenital pain management. It is also responsible for bringing on positive emotions that can enhance conventional treatments for disease.
Possibly the best thing about Laughter is that it is FREE! And it may be one of the best medicines out there.
Exercise your Stress Away – we all know exercise is good for us. It improves blood flow and tones our muscles but did you know exercise can also fight stress. Exercise increases the blood flow through the brain and helps flush away the chemicals that result from stress. It can be responsible for releasing endorphins into your blood that give you a feeling of well-being. According to the Mayo Clinic any form of exercise can act as a stress reliever.
Exercise often is a means to escape from the everyday stress that plague us. After a good exercise session you will often find that the irritations of the day have vanished because you were concentrating on the movement of the exercise rather than the issues.
Regular exercise can improve mood and lessen depression as well as improving your sleep according to the Mayo Clinic. But that regular exercise doesn’t have to be a chore. Some things you can do that may not seem like exercise but have great benefits for reducing stress are
- Ride a bike with your kids
- Dance, alone, with friends, or at the club. Dance is a great aerobic exercise and the added benefit to reduced stress is weight loss
- Walking is a low impact way to exercise and the benefits are widely known. I love to walk, personally, but find it hard to just go walk. One of the things I do is try to find a place to walk to. A nearby but not next door friend, the store, or I used to walk to the school or bus stop to pick up the kids. Walking the dog is also a good habit. It will also enhance your bond with the family pet.
Speaking of Pets – get a dog or cat. Did you know that people who own pets tend to live longer. It’s true. I don’t think anyone really knows why, but a pet cat or dog seems to be able to calm you. Blood pressure drops and tension is relieved when you hold and pet your dog or cat. It is as if you instinctively know that you need to be calm for them, so you are. And they know when you are upset so you may often find that your pet seems to be closer to you more often when you are under a lot of stress, so take advantage of it. Take a few minutes to hold and play with Fido or Fluffy. Sorry though, fish, birds, reptiles and other pets have not been shown to have the same affects, at least not yet.
Faith and or Religion
Turn to your religion, your faith if it applies to you. A strong belief system can help you let go of the problems that seem to follow you. There is a lot of truth in the prayer, God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference. It is not my intention to promote any single religion or belief, only to suggest that if you have one, turning to it in times of stress can help.
Eliminate the Killer – Stress
By now you can see how stress can be a killer. It affects your mind and body. It causes you to seek out medications that have untold side effects. Personally I believe that medications can sometimes cause more harm than good. This is because I watched my grandmother go from needing one or two pills to needing a hand full to manage the side effects of the one or two she needed.
You see dozens of advertisements everyday talking about many of the symptoms I mentioned above. Any one of these can reduce your time on this earth and I for one want every minute the good lord sees fit to give me.
We all face stress every day, but there are things we can do to help alleviate it. I am not a doctor but I have had my fair share of stress and then some. My doctor told me once that I should already be dead due to the levels of stress I was living with. (This was shortly after my husband died). I began to look at what I did that kept me from suffering the effect of stress that my doctor warned me about back then and I realizes that I had already instinctively learned to utilize the methods above.
I laugh loudly, sometimes too loudly, and long whenever the mood strikes me. I also try to laugh at myself as often as I can. I have always gotten my exercise through dancing and walking. At times the walking being a necessity as I struggled in my youth with ‘clunkers’ that were constantly breaking down and leaving me with no transportation. I have always had dogs and cats around, even as a child and I try to live by the Serenity prayer every day.
If we can learn ways to relieve the day to day stress, as well as minimize chronic stress, we can reduce our tendency to suffer from many of the symptoms and diseases associated with stress like the ones I mentioned above.
Resources: *Web Md health Guide:Dr. Black, 2002 ‘Stress in primary care patients’. FV DeGruy et al, eds., 20 Common Problems in Behavioral Health. Pp. 65-87. New York: McGraw-Hill
** Holistic Hotline.com / Humor: Thrapeutic Benefits of Laughter by Dr. Lee Berk and Dr. Stanley Tan of Loma Linda University, CA. Sept./Oct. 1996 Issue of Humor and Health Journal.
Also – Mayo Clinic Health Manager 2010