It’s exhausting being a human today – there are over one million Google hits per day for the word “stress”. Good and bad stress is a part of the human condition and it can be real or imagined and it is certainly a broad societal issue. By making a positive “next step” in managing your stress you can avoid becoming worn out by the journey of life.
Stress was first described in 1915 and the theory states that we react to threats with a general discharge of the sympathetic nervous system, priming the person for fighting or fleeing. Biologically, physical activity gives the body a chance to practice dealing with stress. Physical Activity releases mood-elevating endorphins, self-confidence and improves your sleep. Studies show that one can access the REM state (the most restorative phase of sleep) quicker on days you include physical activity. Under stress, our raised heart rate and blood pressure but tensions in our arteries and cause damage. Chronic stress which goes on longer than 20 minutes contributes to heart attacks just as acute stress does. It also causes constriction of the blood vessels, dilation of pupils, auditory exclusion and decline of peripheral vision. As the body heals this damage, artery walls scar and thicken which can reduce the supply of blood and oxygen to the heart (occluded arteries). Since the brain uses 20% of the oxygen delivered by the heart foggy-thinking may result. Stress can also cause the telomeres to shorten and erode. The telomeres protect the end of the chromosomes and if they shorten too much, they cannot multiply and die off resulting in quicker aging.
The President of the Salk Institute, Elizabeth Blackburn, and the recipient of the Nobel Prize states, “We’ve found that the better your telomeres are protected, the less chance you’ll have of getting any of the big diseases.” She suggests to stop the erosion, do physical activity of various types and don’t have long-term stress.
Begin to take charge of your thoughts, your emotions, your schedule, your spending, your environment and the way you deal with problems – especially family system challenges. Ask yourself, is it worth my health? Is this situation/person worth negatively impacting my health? Choose to be happy – it can boost your emotional well-being as stated in studies published in the Journal of Positive Psychology. Be mindful of good and hard-earned accomplishments and enjoy your small victories. Appreciate the simple pleasures, devote time to giving, make a point to listen to the other person’s ideas and UNPLUG! Ferris Bueller said – “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it”.
Hamlet said, “There is nothing good or bad…but thinking makes it so.” Positive thinking is medicine and every thought can enhance or diminish our health, happiness and stress level. Dr. Robert Sapolsky of Stanford proposes in his book Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers, “If you are a normal mammal, stress is the three minutes of screaming terror in the jungle which either it is over with OR you’re over with. Perceived threats spark the same physiological survival responses (fight or flight) that crocodile attacks do.” Our modern-day stressors have changed. Fighting off prehistoric predators and trying to find food are replaced by juggling deadlines, multitasking and always being “connected” and available. Modern day saber tooth tigers are bills, traffic, family pressures but our bodies react the same way without the natural release that we would get from fighting or fleeing. Try not to turn to sugar and caffeine which can result in swings in blood sugar levels, limit alcohol to one drink per day and try to achieve a balanced, clean diet on most days of the week to even out your beautiful life.
The United States Government has suggested 150 minutes per week of physical activity in addition to two days per week of strength training for 20 minutes and stretching every day. There are many meditation, relaxation response and calming apps which you can download to have with you and use when you are having a challenge with managing stress. Sit and stand tall and do not “slump” as this can cause shallow chest breathing which can trigger the fight or flight response. Try not to make important decisions while under undue stress as this may result in poor or faulty decisions.
A 2016 study by the American College of Sports Medicine stated if workers do not have emotional resilience skills and habits to help support them during stressful times, their productivity declines. Work-related requirements such as precision and accuracy, problem solving, interpersonal communications as well as speed and quality of work output will suffer. We need to adjust to change without disruption or difficulty while maintaining good functional capacities. We need to bounce back without breaking and without giving in, giving up or breaking down. Stress Management is an integral component of Global Employee Health and Fitness Month (every May) healthandfitnessmonth.org and as the Architect of this initiative I felt passionately about including this component along with nutrition and physical activity, to give each and every worker the opportunity to go home “whole.”
Each and every day when confronted with stress, think about what advice you would give to a friend and then take this advice yourself!
Diane Hart, Owner of Hart to Heart Fitness, (www.harttoheartfitness.org) is a Nationally Certified Fitness Professional, Personal Trainer, Health Educator and is current President of the National Association for Health and Fitness (www.physicalfitness.org) founded in 1979 by the U.S. President’s Council on Sports and Fitness.