We can fix at least ten health problems that we may face. Let’s discuss how stress can make us sick. Stress is not just a feeling; it is actually a physiological response that is built into our bodies,
which provides us with the tools to handle a threat
(http://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007%2F978-0-230-30617-2_2). Many people experience perceived threats in their everyday lives, and the body responds in the same manner as with “real” threats. Some of the physiological effects include such responses to stress as the blood vessels constricting, the pulse going up, the blood pressure rising, pupils dilating, sweating increasing, urine output decreasing, digestion slowing, muscles tensing, and blood clotting ability increasing (http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/understanding-the-stress-response). When the stress response becomes chronic, it can lead to health problems.
Here are the ten health conditions that are caused by stress, worsened by stress or stress increases the risks of these conditions:”(http://www.webmd.com/balance/stress-management/features/10-fixable-stress-related-health-problems?page=2).
1. Accelerated Aging: Stress on the body appears to speed up the aging process; one study analyzed the DNA of mothers with chronically ill children and found aspects of the chromosomes that indicated age acceleration by 9-17 years.
2. Alzheimer’s Disease: Studies have found links between stress and our brain function, including increased speed of brain lesions forming that lead to Alzheimer’s disease. Stress response is also known to result in chronic inflammatory responses, which is associated with the progression of dementia.
3. Asthma is triggered by stress and studies with children found the following: “Kids with stressed-out parents had a substantially higher risk of developing asthma”(http://www.webmd.com/balance/stress-management/features/10-fixable-stress-related-health-problems?page=2).
4. Depression: Chronic stress has a well-known connection to higher risks of depression and anxiety.
5. Diabetes: Stress raises glucose levels, but also contributes to bad lifestyle habits; so like the patient with heart disease, diabetics are prone to the complications of stress.
6. Gastrointestinal (GI) problems: Stress is a contributing factor to GERD, Irritable Bowel Syndrome and other diseases of the digestive tract, including dental issues (the mouth is the beginning of the GI system).
7. Headaches: Most of us know that stress can result in tension headaches and can trigger off migraines to those who are prone.
8. Heart Disease: Stress can result in an elevated blood pressure, as well as an increase in pulse and release of cholesterol and triglycerides into the blood stream. All these factors can lead to heart disease. Research has discovered links between a sudden emotional situation and a resulting heart attack. Chronic stress can lead to bad lifestyle choices, such as smoking, poor nutritional choices, increased alcohol consumption, and sleep disorders, all of which can result in heart disease.
9. Obesity: Stress response is known to increase hormonal levels such as cortisol, which is linked to increased fat depositing in the abdomen. Stress can cause bad eating practices and other lifestyle habits that lead to weight gain and obesity.
10. Premature Death: They say stress can be a killer. For example, caregivers have a 63% higher rate of death than people their age who were not caregivers (http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/192209).
Stress is not avoidable; it creeps into our lives. So, before getting stressed out about stress, there are ways to relieve stress in our everyday lives and help reduce (or even fix) these above-noted health problems.
Here are some approaches to stress management while in “the moment:”
1. Breathing: We can simply start by being mindful about our breathing patterns and start taking deeper breaths. Better yet, just take a few minutes to calm yourself when you feel tense and focus on your breath. Think about adding some muscle relaxation to various areas of your body: release the tension in your jaw by making faces, shake out your arms and legs, or roll your shoulders – all while focusing on the breath. The beauty of this technique is that it can be done just about anywhere: in most job settings, while studying at your desk, walking from the parking lot, doing your grocery shopping, sitting in your parked car or getting ready for bed.
2. Be in the moment: We are most often stressed when we “live” in the past or future. As Dale Carnegie said, think of the past as the “dead yesterdays” and the future as the “unborn tomorrows.” Focus on the moment – what you are doing right now – whether you are eating, walking, playing socializing, or sitting at your desk. Try to find pleasure or joy in what you are doing for the moment.
3. Reframe the Situation: We do things all day long that frustrate us or create more stress, so try turning the situations around and put a positive spin on it. For instance, when you are forced to park your car far away from the entry of a building, think about the extra physical activity you just gained and how good it is for your health. If your child is home from school with a cold, rather than thinking about all the downbeat aspects of the illness, be grateful for the extra time you have with your child and how miraculously the body heals from a cold.
4. Keep life in perspective: We tend to lose focus on a problem and sometimes overstate it – making it bigger than it really is, and the worry can kill you (literally). It helps to put the problem in perspective and ask: “What’s the worst that can happen?” For example, many people have financial concerns in this current environment (worrying about their jobs, their business, their retirement). Turn your perspective of worry around and be grateful for your family and friends, your health, your home, etc. Your new attitude just might have a positive impact on your financial concerns by bringing clarity, instilling new ideas or attracting others to you who may help (because positivity tends to be more appealing to others). People tend to attract who they are, not what they want (D. Carnegie’s How to Stop Worrying and Start Living).
There are also stress-management techniques that can be practiced, planned and incorporated, so that they become a way-of-life:
1. Exercise or Physical Activity is the best prescription a doctor can give you for stress reduction. After determining what you can do physically (know your abilities), think about what you like to do (walk, swim, yoga, etc.) and then finally, how you like to do it (alone, with a friend, outside, indoors, etc.). Once you start, you begin to feel better and “feeling good” keeps you motivated.
2. Relaxation Techniques help to improve our health. Again, choose something that works for you: yoga, tai chi, prayer, walking, meditation, guided imagery, dancing, massage or formal relaxation breathing methods (see my website for the CD entitled “Relaxation Breathing”).
3. Eat Well: Eating whole and real foods (as opposed to processed foods) brings balance to the body, regulating hormones, including stress hormones.
4 Rest: Lack of sleep and stress are a vicious cycle – in much need to be broken. Developing healthy sleep habits that result in a wholesome sleeping pattern can reduce stress and help us manage stress (https://cmbm.org/blog/5-ways-relieve-stress/).
5. Coping: Explore what works for you. Some people like to socialize, some people need to talk about their problems, others find that writing helps, and still others find that volunteer work, the arts or hobbies (gardening, pets, playing a musical instrument) help with managing stress
It seems that stress can easily sneak into our day and into our lives. Fixing it requires some steps and mindfulness. No one said the fix was easy, but it’s worth it.