Everyone experiences stress in their day to day life, it is an inevitable part of living. It can be “good” stress like preparing for a marriage or a new baby, studying really hard to raise your B to an A in your Anatomy and Physiology class or preparing for an interview for your dream job. It could also be “bad” stress such as marital problems, financial problems or stress in the workplace. Whatever the cause of the stressors, what matters most is the person’s ability to cope with the stress and minimize long term damage to their health and well-being.
When a person is stressed the body triggers the fight or flight response where hormones are released that prepares the body to do what is necessary for survival. Heart rate increases, blood pressure rises and the skeletal muscles are ready to act quickly. When stress continues day after day without ceasing and without proper management the body goes into a resistance phase where it attempts to maintain homeostasis by using reserves stored in the body. Staying in this phase for very long is detrimental to the body and can eventually be fatal if the body exhausts all of its reserves. The immune system is compromised and not only is the body unable to fight off ordinary infections like colds and flu viruses but the risk of cancer increases as well. Common symptoms of long term stress include headaches, severe gastric problems, heart arrhythmias, muscle tension, insomnia, irritability, depression, low sex drive, fatigue and high blood pressure. It can also cause weight gain because people tend to eat high calorie foods when under stress. They also tend to drink more, smoke more or abuse drugs in an attempt to handle their stress which in turn only puts their body under more strain and can increase the damage already done from the uncontrolled stress. As if those symptoms aren’t bad enough, stress can also cause an increase in asthma flair ups, can hamper fertility and cause erectile dysfunction. According to WebMD 45% of adults have adverse health effects from stress and 75-90% of doctor visits are stress related. It seems obvious that if we don’t control our stress it will steal our health and our future viability.
There are many different ways to help control our stress and relax our minds and bodies. Taking at least ten minutes several times a day to block out distractions, breathe deeply and clear the mind is very beneficial. The endorphins released during daily exercise are a great stress reliever and has the added benefit of keeping you healthy and fit for a lifetime. Getting 7-9 hours of sleep per night, limiting caffeine consumption and following a well-balanced, whole foods diet boosts the immune system with necessary vitamins and minerals. Make time every day to laugh with a friend, take a warm bath, listen to music, read, do yoga or any activity that makes you relax and feel good. This is as important to your day as your responsibilities are, if not more so.
No one can thrive in a state of constant stress, you may be able to survive for a while but the price you will pay is enormous. Uncontrolled stress will rob you off your ability to enjoy life, will eventually destroy your health and if you are one of the really unlucky people, it will take your life and your future with it.