Why is Stress a Problem?
We often underestimate the power of stress. We like to see it as natural, and even helpful, in being productive in our day-to-day lives. But the positive effects of stress, like goal orientation, motivation, and even intensified memory or cognitive responses are most beneficial in small doses.
Many of us have built up tolerances to living with constant, heightened stress levels, and the temptation to see this as a positive or heroic trait has reduced our natural desire to respond to it. Instead of recognizing and reacting to the core ‘fight or flight’ survival response that it provides, many of us function with long durations of heightened stress without realizing that living under continued high levels can have dire health consequences.
How Stress works:
You’ve probably heard this before, and you’ve certainly felt it: the pounding heart, the rushing sounds in your ears, and an acute and intense desire for action when something has caught you completely off guard.
When your brain perceives some kind of stress, be it your move in a basketball game, a heated argument, or stepping off a busy street, it starts producing an influx of epinephrine, norepinephrine and cortisol hormones. This flood of chemicals produces a variety of reactions: increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, and an acute focus on taking whatever action is necessary to stay safe.
Stress can be brought on by a variety of internal and external factors, and it can be a very healthy reaction and necessary to maintain our survival. It’s when you remain in a heightened state for prolonged periods of time, that the effects of stress on your system can become a real medical problem.
How much stress is too much?
Life events, changes in lifestyle, work, family, or even shifting responsibilities such as child or parent care, relationships, and work can directly affect feelings of overwhelm. When the amount on our plate reaches a place of critical mass, we experience overwhelm. That experience can present itself in many ways. Emotional stressors like these, that remain for a period of weeks, months, or even years, can become detrimental to your immune system, and your overall health. Being able to recognize our own stress signals is the first step to finding ways to cope with and dissipate it, to return to a healthy state that will enable you to work through the demands placed on you.
Recognizing Stress Responses:
There are many ways that stress expresses itself. While some might be more familiar to you than others, a person can experience some or all of these at different times. But, multiplied sources of ongoing stress can lead to larger health issues. If chronic stress is not dealt with effectively, it can become debilitating, leading to an inability of what we want to do most: thrive at work, and in life with our family and friends.
Being able to recognize the sensations of stress is the first step to being able to discuss them with your family doctor and your personal health team. Then, they can help you find ways to cope more effectively.
Stress can feel like:
- Frenetic energy or restlessness
- Fatigue, or trouble sleeping or staying awake
- Digestive issues, changes in appetite, over or under eating
- Change in use of addictive substances like alcohol, tobacco, or drugs
- Inability to concentrate or complete tasks
- Increased frequency of colds or other illnesses like autoimmune disease flares
- Heightened anger or impatience
- Headaches, migraines, body aches
- Increased irritability, anger, or anxiety
- Lack of motivation, depression, sadness
- Inability to catch your breath, panic attacks
- Change in sex drive, social withdrawal
- Feelings of being ‘burnt out’
That’s me! What should I do?
First, know that everyone experiences high stress at one time or another. You are not alone.
Second, understand that it is manageable and that there are many tools that Dr. Pamela Frank, ND Dr. Rachel Vong, ND and Ichih Wang, therapist in training, have at their disposal to help hone in on treatments and and actions that will support you in managing yours. If stress is creating muscle tension, back pain or neck pain, see one of our massage therapists, Helen Bhavnani or CJ Paterson, our acupuncture/TCMP Joy Walraven and Dr. Farnaz Najm, our chiropractor.
There’s no need to wait until stress is overwhelming to start practicing some simple management techniques. In fact, the Mayo Clinic recommends including a few key practices to help manage everyday stress, so that if a major issue should arise, you’ll have a few great tools already in your tool box.
Some people find great benefit in:
- Effective, gentle breathing and stretching techniques
- Tai Chi or gentle yoga (such as Hatha, Yin, or Restorative not Vinyasa, Ashtanga, or Power)
- Exercising regularly, choosing gentle forms of movement and temporarily reducing or eliminating cardio intensive exercise (which increases the cortisol response)
- Allotting quiet time for yourself, to think, journal, meditate, or engage in a creative activity that you enjoy
- Implement a restful sleep routine that makes a conscious effort towards reducing screen-time and stimulants before bed, and gives you the opportunity to regulate the amount and timing of your sleep hours – the mind and body heal when at rest
Let the mind and body work together:
Remember that stress starts in the brain, and then exhibits in the body. It is not a form of weakness; rather, it is a normal psychological and physical response to situations that require our attention. The way that we can best manage stress is by paying attention and caring for the mind as well as the body, holistically. Some potential stress diagnostic and stress management tools your practitioner could suggest include:
- Hormone testing and re-balancing
- Methods of identifying and eliminating stressors
- Natural, non-addictive, sleep training
- Building inroads to create family support
- Natural nutritional supplements such as:
- Magnesium glycinate
- B vitamins
- Adrenal support and adaptogenic supplements (like ashwaganda, Korean ginseng, licorice root, or schisandra)
- Properly administered essential oil blends, such as:
- Lemon balm
It’s never too early to start learning how to identify and copy better with stress. After all, life is full of surprises. Have you tried any of these tools? Which ones have worked best for you? Which new ones will you try?
Your Forces of Nature Wellness Team is here to help you. If you find that your stress management toolkit isn’t providing what you need, please call us. We would love to support you to finding your best health.