What About STRESS...

     This illustration says it all, who isn't stressed these days

When all the little things that held together the fine strands of your sanity seem to be dwindling, and recreation is being enjoyed in reduced quantities, stress builds. Personally, I can't remember when the last time, I had more than 1 massage in a month, or a vacation for more than 4 or 5 days. Physical, Mental, and Environmental stress are they're lifesavers or silent killers?

First let's look at the stress response, the stress response is one of the body's ways of protecting you. When it's working properly, it helps you to stay focused, energetic, and alert. In emergency situations, stress can save your life, giving you extra strength to defend yourself, or encouraging you to finish in a competition. When you perceive a threat, your nervous system responds by releasing a flood of stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones wake-up the body for emergency or immediate action.Your heart pounds faster, muscles tighten, blood pressure rises, breath quickens, and your senses become sharper. These physical changes increase your strength and stamina, speed your reaction time, and enhance your focus, preparing you to either step up your engagement or abandon. Science refers to it as fight or flight response. Which is not to say this system is only in operation when we are fighting or running away. This system can be engaged with something as simple as a verbal altercation, working out, or something fun like bungee jumping.

Beyond a certain point though, stress stops being helpful and starts causing major damage to your health, your mood, your productivity, maybe your relationships, and your quality of life. The most dangerous thing about stress is how easily it can creep up on you, and then you get used to it. It starts to feels familiar, just normal. Stress affects your mind, body and behavior. Either productively or detrimentally, it's your choice. When stress overwhelms you, it is because YOU haven't taken the necessary steps to control your situation.
Here's how psychologist Connie Lillas describe the three most common ways people respond when they’re overwhelmed by stress.
  • Foot on the gas – An angry or agitated stress response. You're heated, keyed up, overly emotional, and unable to sit still.
  • Foot on the brake – A withdrawn or depressed stress response. You shut down, space out, and show very little energy or emotion.
  • Foot on both – A tense and frozen stress response. You freeze under pressure and can't do anything. You look paralyzed, but under the surface you're extremely agitated.

Stress-hardy people have an optimistic attitude. They tend to embrace challenges, have a strong sense of humor, accept that change is a part of life. People who are vulnerable to stress tend to feel like things are out of their control. You can be extremely vulnerable to stress if you don't know how to calm yourself when you're feeling sad, angry, agitated, or afraid. The ability to bring your emotions into balance helps you bounce back from life's adversities. The situations that cause stress are called stressors. We usually think of stressors as being negative, such as an exhausting work schedule or a rocky relationship. However, anything that puts high demands on you or forces you to adjust can be stressful. This includes positive events such as learning to scuba dive, choosing a pet, studying for a test, or receiving more responsibility at your job. Remember, what causes stress depends, on your perception of the event. Something that's stressful to you may not faze someone else, they may enjoy it. For example, your ride up the ski lift may make you anxious and tense because you worry about exiting the lift or your impending slide down the HUGE mountain. Others, however, may find the trip relaxing because it gives them time to focus and enjoy listening to music while they ride. The body doesn’t distinguish between physical and psychological or environmental threats. When you're stressed over a busy schedule, an argument, a traffic jam, a mountain of bills, or a first date your body reacts just as strongly as if you were facing a life-or-death situation. If you have a lot of responsibilities and worries, your emergency stress response could be "ON" most of the time. The more your body's stress system is activated, the easier it is to turn on and the harder it is to shut off. Athletes and soldiers know this reaction all too well.

Never turning "OFF" your stress response mechanism can lead to serious health problems. Chronic stress disrupts nearly every system in your body. It can raise blood pressure, suppress the immune system, increase the risk of heart attack and stroke, contribute to infertility, and speed up the aging process. Constant tension from stress can lead to neck, shoulder, and low back pain. That leads to headaches. If you have stomach problems, stress can make your symptoms worse. Stress is linked to low fertility, ED, problems during pregnancy, and painful menstrual periods. Also as any teen can tell you, skin problems like acne are made worse by stress. Also the constant release of the cortisol hormone contributes to belly fat which, as we learned last week has it's own consequences. Long-term stress leaves you more vulnerable to anxiety and depression. Remember, the more you know about a possibly stressful situation, the easier it is to cope. I know, easier said than done. Well like the boy scouts, endeavor to be well prepared. If not for the situation, at least affect the things you can controllike your fitness level, your diet, sleep, and relationships. Until you accept responsibility for the role you play in creating or maintaining it, I'm afraid your stress level will remain outside your control. In order to identify your true sources of stress, look closely at your habits, attitude, children and excuses. How you think can have a big effect on your emotional and physical well-being. Each time you think a negative thought about yourself, or others your body reacts as if it were in a tension-filled situation. If you see good things about yourself, you are more likely to feel good. Eliminate words such as "always," "never," "should," and "must." These words psychologist tell us, are self-defeating thoughts. Stress management involves changing the stressful situation when you can, changing your reaction when you can't, taking care of your health, and making time for rest and relaxation.

Many things in life are beyond our control. Particularly the behavior of other people. Rather than stressing out over them, focus on the things you can control such as the way you choose to react to problems. Talk to a friend (not in a bar) or make an appointment with a therapist. Speaking openly about what you're going through can be very cathartic, and calming even if there's nothing you can do to alter the situation. It's your call on how you deal with it. Accept the fact that we live in an imperfect world and that people make mistakes, and that anger, is a legitimate natural response. Then, let it go. It's been said that "resentment is like taking poison, and waiting for the other person to die." Free yourself from negative energy by forgiving, or at least forgetting, and moving on. Carbohydrates, amazingly block stress hormone release, and alcohol will wipe your emotions, (and memory) but at what cost, definatly your figure, and more importantly your health. 
  • Set aside relaxation time. I know your laughing, and that's good, but stay with me. Find 30 minutes / per day, every day and don't cheat. To rest or relax any way you want uninterrupted. Make a schedule and stick to it. Guard your self-time. Dont allow other obligations to encroach. This is your time to take a break from all responsibilities and recharge your batteries.
  • Connect with others. Don't be a hermit. Spend time with positive people who enhance your life. 
  • Do something you enjoy every day. Make time for leisure activities that bring you joy, whether it be stargazing, playing an insturment, or building ships in a bottle.
  • Keep your sense of humor. This includes the ability to laugh at yourself. The act of laughing does a body good in a number of ways. It's great for your abdominals.

So you see it's not whether the stress is good or bad. It's how, and what you do with the stress response that makes the difference in your health. People who never learn to deal with stress tend to feel like things are out of their control. Which could lead to depression. Don't let that be you. Have some confidence in yourself and your ability to influence events, and get some rest. Rest is the best way to relieve stress. Persevere through challenges, and complete the tasks you take on. They will give you a sense of accomplishment and control. Then its easier to take everyday stress in stride, and not sweat the small stuff.  Good Luck...

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