“Stress is the trash of modern life. We all generate it. But if we don’t dispose of it properly, it will pile up and overtake our lives.” Let’s face it, chronic daily stressors such as finances, parenting, family conflict, work, health and the state of the world today have made it difficult for our ancient stress response to keep up. In fact, The American Medical Association states that chronic stress has put us “in the midst of the worst degenerative crisis in the history of humankind.” In other words, it is a major contributing factor to human disease.
Dr. Nina’s What You Need to Know about managing chronic stress
Do our best, and let go of the rest
What is stress? Think of it in two parts: the perception of the situation and the automatic physiological response resulting from the release of stress hormones (adrenaline, cortisol). Known as “fight or flight,” this response served to protect our ancestors from predators. By making the heart pound faster, muscles tighten, breathing speed up and senses sharpen, it gave our ancestors increased strength and stamina, faster reaction time and enhanced focus to defend against or escape predators. The stress response keep people alive. Although today we are no longer running from dinosaurs or lions, in some instances, acute stress can serve as a productive mechanism to push us to optimal levels of alertness, behavioral, and cognitive performance.
What are long-term effects of stress? The continuous outpouring of stress hormones, known as chronic stress, can result in physical and mental consequences: immune system suppression, headaches, digestive disorders, infertility, muscle tension, short-term memory loss, heart disease, depression, panic attacks and premature death. It can make us “worried sick” and affect us from head-to-toe.
How can we use “mind-over-matter” to help us deal with stress? One popular method is The 4 A’s: avoid, alter, adapt and accept
• Avoid unnecessary stress. The concept is similar to placing certain people and situations on a “do not call” list. Some people are emotional vampires – they suck our energy and happiness in order to survive while exsanguinating us. Figuratively, use garlic, holy water and wooden stakes to limit time spent with them or end the relationship entirely. In other words, create and maintain healthy boundaries.
• Alter the way we communicate and make decisions. Communicating concerns in a constructive manner can help avoid resentment and possibly improve the situation. In other words, do not bottle up feelings!
• Adapt to the stressor. Changing attitudes and expectations can change how things are perceived. For example, a glass that is half empty is really just half full. And let’s reassure ourselves that “This too shalt pass” and “Time heals all wounds.” “Keep calm, and carry on.”
• Accept the things you cannot change. Often, we cannot choose the circumstances we are dealing with – the end of a relationship, death of a loved one, serious illness or paying taxes. But we can certainly choose to accept it in order to regain control and move on. On a similar note, forgiveness does not mean we are condoning someone’s inappropriate actions; it means we are ready to find peace for ourselves.
What else can I do to manage stress? Having a positive attitude can significantly curb stress. But we also need time to shut down and reboot. This can include setting aside relaxation time (going for a walk, meditating, praying, reading, playing with a pet, savoring a cup of coffee, or listening to music); connecting with others; and, of course, keeping a sense of humor. For example, sometimes we have to close our eyes, count to ten, take a deep breath, and remind ourselves that we would not look good in prison stripes.
And here’s another reason to adopt a healthy lifestyle: It makes us better prepared to handle stress. Eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, decreasing caffeine and sugar consumption, avoiding alcohol and smoking, and getting enough sleep are keys to success when it comes to stress management.
Being healthy is not exclusive to just our physical well-being. Our spiritual, emotional and mental state are all interconnected and interrelated. When one aspect of our well-being is affected by chronic stress, it will create a chain reaction or domino effect that topples down the others. Let’s learn how to dispose of stress properly so we can stand tall and healthy.
Dr Nina Radcliff, of Galloway Township, is a physician anesthesiologist, television medical contributor and textbook author. This article is for general information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions and cannot substitute for the advice from your medical professional. Radcliff has used all reasonable care in compiling the current information but it may not apply to you and your symptoms. Always consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions.