Believe it or not, Stress is Natural
Stress is actually a natural and necessary response experienced
by both humans and animals. To put it simply, stress is a state
of readiness. It can be positive, as in the form of excitement,
or negative, as in the form of nervousness and worry. Unfortunately,
our modern society provides too many opportunities to heighten
stress and too few to deal with it. Unpleasant effects of the
natural stress response develop when a person experiences stress
all the time.
Symptoms of Burnout
A long-term high level of stress can lead to burnout. Burnout
is a descriptive rather than a medical term, but when it occurs
you may experience a variety of symptoms. These include:
- trouble concentrating
- constant feeling of fatigue
- irritability and
Symptoms of Stress
Long-term stress affects the entire body, causing such
- skin irritations
- muscle pain
- irritable bowel and
- many others.
You may also be at risk for later developing:
- heart disease
- high blood pressure
- diabetes or
- immune system problems
The effect of too much stress has become a major health problem
in our country. Clearly, it is worth understanding and treating.
As with any problem, the solution begins with awareness. Following
is more about the stress response and some recommendations for
professionals and techniques to help you cope.
The Stress Response
The stress response is highly individual because it begins
when we perceive a situation to be a challenging or threatening.
Thus, one woman could have an extreme response to seeing a snake,
while her friend remains unconcerned.
In any case, once we perceive a situation as being challenging
or threatening, the sympathetic branch of the central nervous
system is immediately activated to produce stress hormones.
These hormones cause specific bodily changes such as increased
heart rate and metabolism and redirection of blood flow to large
muscles; all to prime the body for action.
When the perceived threat is over, the body has two means of
returning to normal. The stress hormones will dissipate
over time and be destroyed by other chemicals in the body; and
the parasympathetic branch of the central nervous system can release
hormones to calm the body and return it to its normal state.
Too many stress hormones are frequently the culprits in burnout.
Since the stress response affects most of the body systems, the
process takes a lot of energy; leaving you feeling drained at
the end of a stressful day.
There are two basic ways to reduce the effects of stress hormones:
- Decrease their production (not allow ourselves to become stressed
by altering our perception of the situation) or
- Eliminate them from the body once they have been released
(through relaxation and other techniques).
These two mechanisms form the basis of stress management.
Your Physician or Nurse Practitioner
Your physician or nurse practitioner may suspect stress or burnout
if you show generalized problems in different parts of the body
along with feelings of being overwhelmed. When symptoms come in
response to a stressful period in your life, they will rule out
an organic cause with a physical exam and blood work.
Sometimes medication may be prescribed during an adjustment period
to stress. Anti-anxiety medication or mild sleeping
agents may be helpful.
A psychologist or psychotherapist can help you deal with the
emotional and behavioral aspects of stress. They can evaluate
symptoms based on your self-report, their observation, life-events
scale and a genogram. A genogram is a tool similar to doing
a family tree with questions asked that reveal conflicts and issues
between family members.
Treatment may include educational material to clarify
the difference between stress, burnout and tedium, and strategies
to deal with stress.
Individual therapy may include self-hypnosis, supportive
therapy, assertiveness training and homework assignments. Cognitive
therapy helps you change the way you think about people or situations.
Couples or family counseling may be appropriate to assist in making
changes in relationships to decrease symptoms.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)
A TCM practitioner aims to restore balance to the body.
When the body's energy is flowing properly to all tissues of the
body, a person is better able to deal with stress and its effects.
The TCM practitioner will diagnose the effects of stress on the
different body systems. They may recommend an herbal medicine
and acupuncture once or twice per week.
Chiropractic Care & Therapeutic Massage
A spine that is properly aligned enhances functioning
of the nervous system to help it manage the stress response better.
When stress does occur, tense, tight muscles create pain and biomechanical
problems. Chiropractic care can provide symptomatic relief
Therapeutic massage increases circulation, relieves muscle
tension, and relaxes and elongates tight muscles. It also stimulates
production of the 'feel good' brain chemicals, serotonin and endorphins,
and decreases production of stress hormones. It thus invokes the
relaxation response so desirable in managing stress.
Relieve Stress with Nutrition and Exercise
The family of B vitamins features prominently in managing
the body's stress response. Chronic stress can thus deplete these
vitamins, which must be replaced daily since they are not stored
in the body.
Also, the very foods which are often used to deal with stress
tend to heighten its symptoms... try to steer clear of these:
- caffeine and
Instead, eat more:
- whole grains and legumes
- lean protein.
In addition, you may wish to take a multiple vitamin containing
the B vitamins.
Regular exercise can help to make you more stress hardy
and aids in the elimination of the stress hormones. Aerobic
exercise sessions of at least 20 minutes in duration at a
moderate level of intensity will serve you best. The ideal would
be to get some exercise most days, but try not to drop below three
days per week.
Learning to meditate can provide you with a very powerful tool
in coping with stress. Meditation calms the mind and body, enhancing
production of the parasympathetic relaxation hormones.
Research has also shown that certain types of meditation,
when regularly practiced, produce lower incidence of disease,
reduced physiological aging, improved brain functioning, better
rest, and improved job satisfaction and relationships.
Begin by paying attention to your body's communication system.
Try taking your 'stress temperature'. On a scale of one to ten
(with ten being the most intense), what number stress do you feel?
When you identify that your number is greater than a five, it's
time to employ one of the following techniques:
- Deep breathing: Execute a full, deep inhalation through
your nostrils. Relax your belly muscles to allow your lungs
to fill fully. Then slowly exhale through your mouth, letting
your stomach and chest collapse. Repeat until you are feeling
calmer. (Try breathing in to the count of 4 and out to the count
- Sensory focus: Use your senses to tune in to what is
going on around you (thus directing the focus outside yourself).
Pay attention to a leaf for a few moments, listen to the sounds
that exist right now, notice the smells, touch your cheeks as
you would a baby, and so on.
- Affirmations: Make short, positive statements such
as "I can handle this" when you are confronted with
an unexpected event. Or, if you are already feeling anxious,
try "I am relaxed" or "I am calm".
- Prayer: There's a lot less to worry about when you
know you're being taken care of by the Creator of the universe!
Ask for some help. Or just talk to Him.
- Focusing: Sit upright in a comfortable position holding
a small, sentimental object in the palm of your hand. Focus
only on that object, allowing no outside thoughts as you breathe
deeply for one to two minutes. Notice that your breathing has
slowed and you feel calmer.
- Progressive muscle relaxation: Sitting or lying comfortably,
take a few deep breaths. Then tense and relax the following
body parts, in order: face, shoulders, back, abdomen, pelvis,
thighs, calves and feet. Then shake your hands and imagine any
remaining tension flowing out through your fingertips.
- Blow some bubbles: Go to the store and buy yourself
a bottle of bubbles to carry with you. When you notice that
you are feeling stress, take out your bubbles and blow them,
focusing more on the 'out' breath. The out breath is the relaxation,
the letting go response. Symbolically bubbles represent your
troubles floating away.
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