As some of the craziness from last year continues into 2021,

it's not likely much of a stretch to say the one thing we've all experienced in one way or another is stress. And while stress can come from positive events – weddings, birth of a child, starting a new job, rapid business growth – over half of Canadians reported experiencing negative stress on a regular basis, pre pandemic.

 

In 2017 Benefits Canada surveyed 400 workers and found that, “58 per cent reported job-related stress on a daily basis”. More recently in June of 2020, CBC online reported, “Health Canada data recently revealed that roughly 11 million Canadians may experience high levels of stress, with two million more of us at risk for traumatic stress as a result of the pandemic.” . That's almost one-third the population of Canada. The article went on to say, “...an IPSOS poll investigating the mental health of Canadians found that 66 per cent of women and 51 per cent of men claim their mental health has been negatively affected by COVID-19.”. Total stats for 2020 are not yet available, but given the continued uncertainty, I shudder to think what those numbers will come it at.

 

Stress doesn't just confine itself to one area. If left unchecked, that one source of stress can become pervasive and negatively impact all areas of your life. Including, and in my opinion most importantly, your health. Health, or the lack of, is a direct result of the things we do or don't do consistently over a period of time. Like a snowball rolling downhill, growing in size and gaining speed. What we do for our bodies, or inflict upon them, kickstarts a series of events which, after a period of time shows a result. Good or bad.

 

Living in a constant state of fear, anxiety, upset, uncertainty, sadness, despair, frustration, etc., is putting the body in a state of chronic stress. Now I'm sure we all know that's not an ideal place to live, but let's take a look at what it actually does. Regardless whether the stressor is temporary, like if someone were to cut you off in traffic, or ongoing like being out of work for an extended period of time, your body reacts the same way. Adrenaline and cortisol are released, blood flows away from the vital organs and out to the extremities, breathing is shallow and thought process is limited to the perceived danger. All necessary to avoid a collision, but living in a constant state of fight or flight puts a huge amount of wear and tear on your body. Risk of developing diabetes, hypertension, high blood pressure and cholesterol, obesity, heart disease, Alzheimer's all increase when living stressed.

 

According to the Mayo Clinic, stress affects not only your body, but also your mind, mood and behaviour. Headaches for example can lead to anxiety, which can lead to overeating or not eating enough. Muscle tension often causes restlessness, which can result in angry outbursts. Chest pain, fatigue, change in sex drive, stomach issues are responsible for lack of motivation, feelings of being overwhelmed, anger, and depression, which in turn can lead to behaviours of alcohol and/or drug abuse, smoking, social withdrawal, and lack of exercise. All of which are exacerbated by sleep problems. Another area greatly affected by stress.

 

Often times when we're in a stressful situation, it's difficult to see a way out. Here are five things that, when implemented regularly, can help you stop treading water, touch your feet on the ground and come up for air. 1. Exercise. A quick, fast burst (run, power walk, bike, stairs, weights, even move furniture or vacuum with a vengence) is most effective as your body takes it as you're escaping the “danger” and allows the body's systems to return to normal. 2. Relax. Turn off the news/social media and try things like deep breathing, stretching, yoga, meditation, prayer. 3. Laugh. Watch a funny movie, call up a friend and talk about “that time you laughed so hard you were both crying”, even if you just say “ha, ha, ha”, your brain actually can't tell the difference between a genuine belly laugh and lip service and reacts positively. 4. Connect. Reach out to family and friends as often as possible. You'll brighten their day just as much as they'll brighten yours. 5. Time. Make time for things you enjoy. Hobbies, reading, sports, bubble bath, listening to music, going for a walk, whatever makes you smile when you think about doing it, do that. Often. Schedule it in if you have to.

 

We can't stop stressful situations from coming. But we can control our responses to them. Imagine what would happen if we chose to focus on doing what we can, rather than what we can't. Choose to do those things that reduce stress, lower the risk of disease and increases overall health. It's a win/win for everyone.

 

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