Anyone, anywhere, at any given time can experience stress.Things like running late for a morning meeting and not being able to find your keys, difficulty soothing a crying baby, or realizing there's no milk for breakfast and it's already 7:00am. On a school day. I'm sure most of us have experienced things similar to these at one time or another. Even positive things like organizing a surprise birthday party can trigger stress. You may feel frustrated, or maybe a little anxious, your heart rate increases, breathing becomes shallow, adrenaline is released, blood pressure goes up and you start moving more quickly in an effort to make up for lost time. And any conversation at this point is often replaced with short, abrupt phases as you whip into action. A few hours later when you've arrived at your meeting, or when the baby is napping, or after you fed the kids scrambled eggs and dropped them at school, of after that surprise party, you take a big breath and everything returns to normal.
Whether you call it an adrenaline rush, a burst of energy, or “dialing it in”, stress motivated you by activating your parasympathetic nervous system – our fight, flight or freeze response – to prompt us to get the job done. Good stuff right? Yes and no. This type of response is effective and works well for us in these temporary situations, but what happens when the issues don't get resolved and the stress response never gets turned off?
If I were to ask you right now to rate yourself on a scale of one to 10 with one being no stress at all and 10 being so much stress that you're feeling overwhelmed, what number would you give yourself? If this question makes you uncomfortable or you're resistant to answer, I'm going to go out on a limb here and suggest you've got too much stress happening in your life. Our bodies are hardwired to protect us in in stressful or threatening situations. A dog bares his teeth at you and you turn and run. Incidental or acute stressful situations like the dog and the ones we talked about earlier are helped along by a little dose of stress. But having that turned on all the time, day in and day out – chronic stress – is not only exhausting but damaging to our health as well.
The many chemical responses that happen in our bodies as a result of a perceived threat return to normal inside our bodies as soon as that threat is neutralized. When the threat never goes away – boss is never satisfied at work, bills piling up at home, divorce, injury, illness, death in the family, etc., – and those internal reactions continue to take place with the expectation that we will use the adrenaline to fight or take flight and run, or in other words find a solution to what's stressing on us, you put yourself at risk for multiple health problems. Anxiety, depression, weight gain, digestive issues, heart problems, headaches, sleep disruption, lack of focus and concentration, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, to name a few.
Stress is also very subjective. What seems to me like the end of the world, may be just a small interruption in your day so knowing what your triggers are will go a long way to helping you reduce and eliminated that stress. Taking a few minutes when you feel your heart rate rising to do some deep breathing is calming. Breathing in some essential oils, taking a hot bath or listening to your favourite piece of music are also ways to interrupt stress in your day. Exercise is a fantastic way to help lower and eliminate stress because your body recognizes it as complying to the fight or flight. Lifting weights, jogging, sprinting, jumping jacks, burpees – anything that will make you sweat makes your body think that you ran from that tiger that was chasing you, you're still alive so all is well, and the elevated stress responses in your body come back down. Going to the gym or going for a run won't eliminate the stress coming at you in the world, but it does break up the stress and allow your body a reprieve. And in doing so, reducing your risk of disease.
Tune in with Tania Saturday mornings at 8:00am for her For the Health of It podcast airing weekly on the Valley's newest digital station, OkanaganValleyRadio.com
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