Unfortunately, studies have shown over and over again that stress can cause health problems. This is because, when you are experiencing stress, your nervous system activates your fight or flight response, releasing adrenaline and cortisol into your bloodstream. These hormones make your heart beat faster, raise your blood pressure, change your digestive process and increase glucose levels in your bloodstream.
This response is actually beneficial in a situation of unexpected stress, like during an attack or when a child is in danger. It can cause a reaction without conscious thought, allowing you to escape your attacker or rescue the child.
However, in a situation which causes persistent stress, this physical response is eventually exhausting both physically and mentally. Extended periods of stress can cause high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, diabetes and even drug or alcohol abuse.
There are many, many reasons a person can consistently get stressed out. Perhaps bad traffic has increased on your way to work, making transportation stressful. Maybe you are working long hours and not getting enough sleep. It’s important to discover your, personal sources of stress.
How Can I Avoid Stress Affecting My Health?
The best way to avoid the health problems caused by stress is to avoid stress altogether. However, this is usually not a feasible option. You may have a rewarding, high-stress job that, at the end of the day, you really enjoy. Your children may be going through the terrible twos – or the hormonal teens – and you will always be there for them. So, instead of avoiding stressful situations, you need to change how you handle stress.
Here are five things you can do to modify your response to stress:
1. Examine your reactions. Take a moment out of your next stressful situation and examine how you react. Do you tense up, clench your fists, your heart racing and your breathing quickening? Do you manage this reaction with things like breathing exercises or asking for help – or do stressful moments extend on and on – continuing past the one stressful moment?
2. Modify your life to change how you deal with stress. There are many changes you can make to take control of stress. For example, you can take one of my classes and learn deep breathing techniques to help you mitigate stress. You can take out some “me” time every day to ponder on what makes you grateful. You can take a walk in one of Oregon’s many parks and simply enjoy nature.
By changing your response to the “fight or flight” response, you are modifying your reaction to stress.
3. Include more healthy meals in your diet. Eating comfort food is a common response to stress. However, this only adds to the strain you are putting on your body. Instead of giving into that craving for comfort food, keep healthy snacks like carrot sticks, raw nuts and fruit around to help you stay energized during stressful situations.
4. Exercise. A great way to de-stress is exercise. However, when you are stressed out, you may feel exhausted and not up for a good workout. Keep yourself motivated by scheduling a weekly class, adding a motivational quote to your morning alarm or getting a workout buddy. You will be amazed at how exercising consistently makes your body more ready to deal with stress.
5. Update your sleep habits. Too many of us stimulate our minds and our brains with technology by watching TV, scrolling through our phones or working on the laptop before going to bed or while in bed. A great way to de-stress and help you sleep more deeply is to make your bedroom a haven for sleep by:
- Keeping your bedroom dark when you’re ready for sleep.
- Taking all of your technology out of the bedroom (including digital clocks).
- Setting your thermostat 5-10 degrees lower than your average daytime temperature.
- Keeping things quiet with a noise machine or earplugs.
We all have stressful situations that come up in life. The trick is recognizing these moments when they occur and modifying how we deal with such situations. If you need help handling stress in your life (and don’t we all?) be sure to come to my class on June 14th at Curves in Oregon City from 2PM-3PM. Just give my office a call to let me know you’ll be joining in!