None of us are strangers to stress. It's a fact of life. But do we really know how important it is to deal with stress when it happens, or the damage accumulated stress can do? Insomnia, binge eating, or pains in your neck, are only a few symptoms of chronic stress. You could be overly stressed and not even know it.
The effects of stress expand like a rolling snowball. Know how a snowball grows as it rolls downhill? Stress is like that. A little stress here and there may not feel like much, but left unattended, it can lead to serious health consequences.
Whenever we feel stressed, our bodies release adrenaline and stress hormones like cortisol. These are a life saver if we're in significant danger. But unfortunately, our brains don't distinguish between facing a deadline and facing an oncoming train.
Adrenaline raises our blood pressure and speeds up our heart rate. The Mayo Clinic reports that the release of cortisol alters our immune system and slows down digestive functions. This explains why cortisol is so often linked with weight gain. But stress hormones also slow down brain function. And fuzzy thinking when you need to be sharp just creates more stress.
No one symptom of unmanaged stress exists alone. Every effect of stress on our bodies is connected to other stress reactions, whether we feel it or not.
Increased blood pressure can lead to heart attack or stroke. Weight gain can lead to diabetes, coronary artery disease, and high blood pressure. Lack of sleep can lead to weight gain, which leads to...get the picture?
Diseases caused or aggravated by stress are connected like a spider web. Today's twinge can be tomorrow's debilitating illness. But only if you let it.
You can stop the stress web before it gets out of control. Spider webs start one strand at a time. They can become enormous, but if you sweep them up when they're tiny, they're no big deal. Think of sweeping out stress the same way. Tackle the small things and you'll have far fewer big things to worry about.
1. Meditate...soon and often. Slowing your breathing in even a quick meditation will keep you from hyper-ventilating when stress hits, and calm you down. Restoring calm reduces stress hormones, and helps you regain control.
Continued meditation practice over time can reduce blood pressure, relieve pain, and better prepare you to face future stress. It may even help you recognize when things are simply not worth getting worked up about.
2. Recognize how you react to stress. Become aware of your own personal stress responses. Anger, physical pain, anxiety, and depression are just a few ways our bodies react, and turning to food or alcohol for help just makes it worse.
Expel the stress by physical exertion, or calming techniques. Let go of any bad coping behaviors and consciously choose more positive ways to relax. This way you can beat the stress of today, and be far healthier tomorrow.