While some level of stress is beneficial because it can motivate and energize us, too much of it can lead to serious health problems. The causes of stress differ from person to person. An incident that might be extremely upsetting to one person might go totally unnoticed by another. Stress causes the body to produce excess cortisol, the hormone associated with the “fight or flight” response. Once the “stress threat” is over, cortisol levels typically return to normal.
When a person is chronically feeling stressed, cortisol levels remain high. Chronically high cortisol levels are linked to a host of health problems including heart disease, diabetes, gastrointestinal problems, insomnia, eating disorders, muscle tension and fatigue. As some health experts put it: “Deal with your stress or it will deal with you – in harmful ways.” In order to cope with stress, we must first understand it. There are two kinds of stress:
ACUTE STRESS: This is the type of stress is triggered by specific situations and it prepares the body to defend itself. Acute stress is associated with incidents such as job interviews, public speaking, accidents or injuries.
CHRONIC STRESS: This type of stress never really goes away. It is related to the way a person copes with the issues of everyday living such as bills, kids, job insecurity and relationship problems. It is also very common among caregivers. If left untreated, chronic stress can leads to consistently high cortisol levels that wreak havoc on the body and immune system.
To the extent that you can, remove yourself from situations and people that stress you out. While we can’t always make the causes of stress go away, we can find healthy ways to cope. Here a few ideas:
EXERCISE: Take a walk, go for a swim or join an exercise class. Exercise provides physical and psychological benefits that reduce stress and boost your mood. Learn yoga and incorporate it into your daily life, just five to 10 minutes a day is better than one hour once a week. Yoga is a life-changing method for relaxation and breath control.
GET YOUR REST: Inadequate rest is linked to stress and depression. It’s much easier to cope with stressful situations when you are rested.
DITCH THE GUILT: You are not a superhero and nobody (except you) expects you to be one. Learn to prioritize and say no.
HAVE SOME FUN: It can be hard to maintain your sense of humor during stressful times, but laughter truly is the best medicine. Paint, dance, sing out loud or watch a funny movie.
LEARN TO RELAX: Stressed-out people usually have difficulty relaxing. Yoga, meditation and conscious breathing techniques can help you stay calm and focused.