Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Stress Management: Understanding the Origin and Results of Stress

at 8:00 AM

Today we face stressors more frequently than ever before in history. Often you will hear older generations talk about a simpler time when things were different. Then we catch ourselves saying the same things as our parents once said regarding the speed of life. It is true that we live in a get it done yesterday and pay for it tomorrow society. The history of studying stress can teach us much about how we respond to it today. History of course is a great teacher and while it may not be original, the following saying is true and does apply to the understanding and potential improvement of our health, "if we don't learn from our mistakes we are destined to repeat them." Therefore, before addressing examples and results of stress, it is most important to take a close look at exactly what stress actually is and why our body reacts to stress the way it does.

Stress basically can be defined several ways, but clinically speaking it is a physical, emotional or environmental threat to the body that triggers a physiological response. It is in essence, more than we can handle in a normal state of balance. Examples of stress vary and are certainly plentiful, some include: Physical... such as work demands or sports. Environmental...such as the air we breathe or the water we drink. Emotional...crying or anger regarding specific events that we perceive or encounter. It seems there is stress from the time we awake to the time we give up on the day and fall asleep due to exhaustion at times.

Our bodies reaction to stress is designed to be one of survival. The "fight or flight" phenomenon allows us to have higher blood pressure and blood flow to our heart and extremities as well as increased oxygen intake to our lungs while diverting the digestion activities as a lesser concern to the immediate "threat". The central nervous system is the control center for all body functions, like an air traffic control tower. It is comprised of the sympathetic nervous system ( fight or flight ) and the parasympathetic nervous system ( rest and digest ). Upon stress, our bodies release powerful hormones like adrenaline designed to keep us safe. This natural design works very well in periods of anticipated or short term stressors.

Constant stress however is by definition placing the body in a state of dis-ease, that is in fact, where we get the term disease. Stress that does not have a healthy outlet eventually leads to a state of disease for the body. Examples of disease include but are certainly not limited to the following: Heat disease, lung disease, diabetes, ulcers, indigestion, constipation, diarrhea, depression, anxiety, sleep apnea, concentration loss, headaches, etc.

Therefore, the most important thing to know about stress is to recognize its many forms in our day to day life. Most people consider all stress to be normal and over time for all disease conditions to be normal or just part of the normal aging process. This could not be further from the truth! Short term stressors are normal and once we address the stressor, it is the body's need and expectation to revert back timely to a place of normal harmony or ease. If the stress remains however, the body must constantly divert important secondary bodily functions and in essence stay in a fight or flight mode. This over usage of the sympathetic nervous system causes a list of clinical problems that place us at great risk for chronic diseases to develop. Many stressors we face in life are voluntary or self created. As such, if we are serious about improving our overall health, we must be honest with ourselves about the personal and professional choices that we make and have a clear understanding of the stressors that are avoidable and those that are unavoidable.

The purpose of this article is to challenge us all to give serious thought to the priorities we currently have and the potential toll it takes on our stress levels and our health. Remember...your life depends on it! Best wishes.

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