by Kimberly Allen, RN
Stress can be defined as “any physical, chemical or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental unrest.” However, I like to think of it as the normal physical and psychological reaction to the constant demands of life. While it is unrealistic to believe you can eliminate all stress from your life, learning to manage the stress is a realistic goal and attainable through a number of methods. There are numerous factors that can cause stress. Our brains all have a built in alarm system to help us in times of perceived danger or stress, it’s called the “fight or flight” response. Unfortunately the hustle and bustle of modern life means that our alarm system rarely shuts off. This means that all the hormones that are released during the “fight or flight” response that make your heart beat faster , increasing your breathing and gives you that burst of energy are constantly being released into your system. This is what makes learning how to manage your stress so important. If your body is always stress there can be serious health consequences.
Unrelieved stress can not only bring on headaches, tension and anger in many cases it can lead to anxiety and depression as well as numerous other symptoms. Studies have shown that stress worsens the symptoms of nearly every know medical condition. Though stress independently does not cause cardiovascular disease including hypertension it not only worsens the symptoms but has been shown to worsen the progression of these diseases. Our immune systems are also adversely affected by stress. Prolonged unrelieved stress wears the immune system down. This means we have more difficulty fighting off colds and infections. There have also been numerous cases where people that have experienced long periods of unrelieved stress before being diagnosed with certain autoimmune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis , lupus and multiple sclerosis. stress is not a cause of these diseases but it impairs the immune system significantly enough to alter it’s ability to function. Stress also significantly worsens the symptoms of these diseases as well. I remember one of the first things my Dr said to me after being diagnosed with RA was that it was very important that I avoid stress. Fortunately he has a sense of humor too and laughed with me knowing that trying to avoid stress can actually cause more stress. Stress can also reduce the immune response to vaccinations and it impairs wound healing.
Though we all experience stress there are some things that increase a persons susceptibility to stress. People that do not have strong support systems like family and friends or church families and other social groups are much more prone to suffer the effects of stress. Other factors that can contribute to being susceptible to stress include poor nutrition and sleep deprivation. also, people that are already suffering from either acute or chronic health issues are more likely to become stressed. There are also certain stressors related to particular stages in life. For example teenagers and college students have different stressors that working parents or seniors.
The first step to achieving relief from stress is realizing you need to learn how to manage it. Then you need to identify the things that trigger you stress response. Some are obvious like certain events including weddings and funerals or having a baby, but others are things like the hassles and demands of everyday life can also contribute. Frequently it’s the little things that push you into that stressed out mode. There are a variety of healthy ways to manage your stress levels. My personal favorite is exercise. Walking has always been my stress management program. Exercise not only improves your overall health and fitness it helps to relieve emotional stress and tension. Exercise also improves your sleep and helps you relax. There are also several relaxation techniques, like biofeedback,and imagry, as well as Tai Chi to name a few that can help with stress management. Meditation is another effective stress management tool. Things like transcendental meditation have been shown to be very effective in managing stress. Learning to manage stress is crucial to living a healthy life. Research and find a technique that works for you.
Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to HealthAndFitnessTalk.com, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.