By Deborah Adams
Stress creeps into our lives slowly and keeps building without us even noticing. Our bodies begin to look and feel older, our minds become cluttered and unclear, our insides feel tight and clenched . . . all due to something we can control, something we can fix. No matter what life situation we are in, our stress level will affect our health, job, personality . . . our entire life.
You may be one of the over 75% of people today who experience stress. Letting stress get the best of you may be doing more harm than you think considering stress can become the root of many other illnesses and diseases. Physical reactions you experience when you’re stressed are no accident. The human body developed these defense mechanisms to deal with the threat of predators and aggressors. We may not be physically ‘running from the bear’ as our predecessors, but today’s modern life is full of new threats. Your body’s well-adapted defenses against physical dangers may not be as effective at dealing with the mental stress you feel everyday while managing a huge workload, making ends meet, or taking care of an ill parent or child. If constantly activated, your ‘body’s response to stress’ may make you more vulnerable to life-threatening health problems rather than protect you from the dangers of them.
Stress response, often referred to as the ‘fight-or-flight’ reaction, is your body’s rapid and automatic switch into high gear. It’s easy to imagine how this reaction helps you deal with a physical threat. You need the energy, speed, concentration and agility either to protect yourself or to run as fast as possible! When you encounter such a threat, the hypothalamus, a tiny region at the base of your brain, sets off an alarm system in your body. Through a combination of nerve and hormonal signals, this system prompts your adrenal glands, situated atop your kidneys, to release a surge of hormones – the most abundant being adrenaline and cortisol.
Adrenaline increases your heart rate, elevates your blood pressure and boosts energy supplies. Cortisol, the primary stress hormone, increases sugars (glucose) into the bloodstream, enhances the brains’ use of glucose and increases the availability of substances that repair tissues. Cortisol also curbs functions that would be nonessential or detrimental in a fight-or-flight situation. It alters immune system responses and suppresses the digestive system, the reproductive system and growth processes. This complex alarm system also communicates with regions of the brain that control mood, motivation and fear.
Our stress-response system is self-regulating, meaning it decreases hormone levels and enables your body to return to normal once a crisis has passed. As levels of the hormones in your bloodstream decline, your heart rate and blood pressure return to normal, and other systems resume their regular activities. But physical threats aren’t the only events that trigger the stress response. Psychological ‘threats’ such as the stress associated with work, personal relationships, major life changes, illness or death of a loved one – all these can set off your alarm system. Even the typical day-to-day demands of living can contribute to your body’s stress response. This can be very harmful over long periods of time.
The long-term activation of the stress-response system (and the subsequent overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones) can disrupt almost all of your body’s processes, increasing your risk of obesity, insomnia, digestive problems, heart disease, depression, memory impairment, lower immune function, chronic pain and other complications. Stress worsens many skin conditions – such as psoriasis, eczema, hives and acne – and can trigger asthma attacks.
Stress is becoming the number one silent killer in America. And it is most often the one ‘disease’ that we can control on our own. Yet many of us are so far into a habitual stress response and experiencing the mental and physical symptoms on a regular basis that it becomes hard to realize how bad our stress level has gotten – we’ve simply grown used to it.
So how do you make a change and start to control and heal it?
It’s simpler than you think. Studies have found that allowing 15 minutes for your body to be in a calm, relaxed state will have positive health benefits.
When the body begins to relax, it naturally produces a chemical called ‘choline’. This beautiful naturally produced chemical acts like a glistening waterfall or powerful ‘scrubbing bubbles’ that wash away the harmful effects of adrenaline and cortisol and leave the body free to begin naturally healing and restoring of its own health and wellness; physically, mentally, and even spiritually. When the body calms and restores itself, it opens up to new clarity, empowerment, courage … amazing things begin to happen simply by switching gears and adopting a calmer state of being.
No matter what your stress level or lifestyle, starting to make a few little changes right now will improve your health immediately. For almost thirty years I’ve lectured to people of all ages on the four easy steps I believe will change their life. Throughout that time, I’ve received letters and comments on how effective these easy tips are to add into your life right away:
- Add extra water into your daily schedule. Drinking water activates your brain, cleanses your internal body, and refreshes all of your cells and organs.
- We take our breath for granted, but spending just a couples of minutes each day breathing in fully and exhaling completely will calm your nervous system, lower heart rate, and refresh your brain.
- Use your gift of touch. Hugs, handshakes, even a quick ‘high five’ improves our immune system and makes us feel connected with others.
- Keep positive thoughts filling your mind. We have 60,000 thoughts flow though our mind in a 24-hour period. Keep positivity flowing by bringing negative influences back into the positive state of thought.
These can be added into your life right now. Why wait? Take control of your stress before it takes control of you!