Let’s face it: money, parenting, family conflict, health, work/life balance, the state of the world today, have made it difficult for our ancient stress response to keep up. In fact, The American Medical Association states that chronic stress has put us “in the midst of the worst degenerative crisis in the history of humankind.”
What is stress? Think of it in two parts: the perception of the situation and the automatic physiological response resulting from the release of stress hormones (adrenaline, cortisol). Known as “fight or flight,” this response served to protect our ancestors from predators. By making our heart pound faster, muscles tighten, breathing speed up, and senses sharpen, our ancestors had increased strength and stamina, faster reaction time, and enhanced focus to defend against or escape from their predators. Today, in most cases, we are no longer running from dinosaurs or lions. And acute stress can be productive by pushing us to the level of optimal alertness, behavioral, and cognitive performance.
What are long term effects of stress? The continuous outpouring of stress hormones, known as chronic stress, can result in physical and mental consequences: immune system suppression, headaches, digestive disorders, infertility, muscle tension, short-term memory loss, heart disease, depression, panic attacks, and premature death. It can make us “worried sick.”
How can we use “mind over matter” to help us deal with stress? One popular method is The 4 A’s: Avoid, Alter, Adapt, and Accept —Avoid unnecessary stress. The concept is similar to placing certain people and situations on a “do not call” list. Some people are emotional vampires—they suck our energy and happiness in order to survive. Figuratively, use garlic, holy water, and wooden stakes to limit the time we spend with them or end the relationship entirely. In other words, create and maintain healthy boundaries.
—Alter the way we communicate and make decisions. Communicating our concerns in a constructive manner can help avoid resentment and
possibly improve the problem. In other words, don’t bottle up our feelings!
—Adapt to the stressor. Changing our attitude and expectations can help the way we perceive an issue. For example, a glass that is half empty is really just half full. And let’s reassure ourselves that “This too shall pass”; “Time heals all wounds”; and “Stay calm and carry on.”
—Accept the things you can’t change. Often, we cannot choose the circumstances we are dealing with — the end of a relationship, death of a loved one, serious illness, or paying taxes. But we can certainly choose to accept it, in order to regain control and move on. On a similar note, forgiveness does not mean we are accepting someone’s actions as acceptable, but that we are ready to find peace for ourselves.
What else can I do to manage stress? Having a positive attitude can significantly curb our stress. But we also need time to shut down and reboot. This can include setting aside relaxation time (going for a walk, meditating, praying, reading, playing with a pet, savoring a cup of coffee, or listening to music); connecting with others; and of course keeping a sense of humor. For example, sometimes we have to close our eyes, count to ten, take a
deep breath, and remind ourselves that we would not look good in prison stripes.
And here’s another reason to adopt a healthy lifestyle: it makes us better prepared to handle stress. Eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, decreasing caffeine and sugar consumption, avoiding alcohol and smoking, and getting enough sleep are keys to success when it comes to stress management.
Being healthy is not exclusive to just our physical well-being. Our spiritual, emotional, and mental state are all interconnected and interrelated. When one is affected by chronic stress, it will create a chain reaction, or domino effect, bringing down the others. Let’s stand up and stand tall.
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Dr. Nina Radcliff is dedicated to her profession, her patients and her community, at large. She is passionate about sharing truths for healthy, balanced living as well as wise preventive health measures. She completed medical school and residency training at UCLA and has served on the medical faculty at The University of Pennsylvania. She is a Board Certified Anesthesiologist and a member of the American Society of Anesthesiologists where she serves on committees for Young Physicians and Communications. Author of more than 200 textbook chapters, research articles, medical opinions and reviews; she is often called upon by media to speak on medical, fitness, nutrition, and healthy lifestyle topics impacting our lives, today.
Tags: adrenalineAmerican Medical Associationchronic stresscortisoldepressiondigestive disordersheadachesheart diseaseimmune system suppressioninfertilitymuscle tensionpanic attackspremature deathshort-term memory lossstress hormones
— Las Vegas Tribune