Sunday, 27 May 2012

STRESSing distress for better health.

We confide in our strength, without boasting of it; we respect that of others, without fearing it.

Stress has become a common complaint of life in the fast lane. We don’t have enough time, take on too much, worry about health and wealth, and feel overwhelmed and stressed out on a regular basis. Sound familiar? According to recent reports, 43 per- cent of all adults suffer the adverse health effects of stress, and stress-related ailments account for 75–90 percent of all visits to physicians. These numbers have been steadily climbing over the past few decades.

Understanding Stress
Stress, as defined by Hans Selye, an Austrian-born Canadian physician who studied the physiological and biochemical results of stress and anxiety, is “the non-specific response of the body to any demand placed upon it.” He claimed that it isn’t stress that harms us but distress, a phenomenon that occurs when we have prolonged emotional stress and don’t deal with it in a positive manner. In other words, stress is not an external force but rather how we react to external stimuli—how we feel and respond to traffic, deadlines at work, or any event that we perceive as stressful.

Stress and Disease
In response to stress, the body releases stress hormones—adrenaline, noradrenalin, and cortisol—to prepare the body to fight, hence this is known as the fight or flight response. Heart rate, blood pressure, and lung tone increase to enhance the function of the heart and lungs. This innate reaction served us well many centuries ago when we had to fight off wild animals and protect our villages. Stress today, however, is very different. It is chronic, pervasive, and insidious because it stems primarily from psychological rather than physical threats and has far reaching effects on our health.
Numerous studies have linked stress to heart disease, cancer, diabetes, high cholesterol and blood pressure, anxiety, depression, memory loss, insomnia, muscle tension, obesity, fatigue, low libido, erectile dysfunction, menstrual cycle disturbances, and many more problems.

Stress Management
Stress can certainly take a toll on your body and mind, so it is absolutely crucial to find ways to cope effectively. Start by identifying your stressors and then look for ways to change your reaction to those situations. It may be a matter of analyzing and rethinking your natural reaction, avoiding certain situations, or utilizing one of the following stress-reducing strategies.

Seeking help from a counsellor or psychologist can be very helpful to learn coping techniques and strategies.

Meditation is the practice of focusing the mind and consciously relaxing the body for a sustained period. This is common among Eastern cultures and is gaining popularity in North America. Focusing on a single object or your breath or a sound occupies your mind and diverts it from the problems that are causing you stress. Many studies have found this an effective and practical way to manage stress. All you need is a quiet, comfortable area. Sit down and close your eyes. Relax all your muscles starting with your feet and working up. Focus your attention on your breathing or a calming sight or sound. Breathe in slowly and deeply and then out. Do this for 10 or 20 min- utes. You can do this when feeling stressed, or make a habit of meditating once or twice a day for better health and relaxation.

Breathing Techniques
Taking slow, controlled breaths is a great way to promote calming when feeling stressed or anxious. Sit down comfortably and close your eyes. Place the tip of your tongue against the roof of your mouth just behind your front teeth. Begin by exhaling through your mouth around your tongue, then close your mouth and inhale deeply through your nose for four seconds. Hold your breath for five seconds and then completely exhale through your mouth, making a whoosh sound. Repeat this cycle four or five times. This technique can be done any time or anywhere.

Getting regular exercise is a great way to reduce stress, promote calming, and improve both physical and emotional well-being. Exercise can help elevate your mood, lessen anxiety and anger, and increase blood flow to the muscles, which tend to be tense from stress. Walking, cycling, swimming, and dancing are just a few examples of stress-busting activities. Keep in mind, though, that you also need to find ways to change your reaction to stress (counselling). Yoga and tai chi are excellent forms of exercise to promote relaxation, as they incorporate breathing and visualization.

This technique involves concentrating on images in your mind that make you feel calm and relaxed. Close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and visualize a picture or event that made you feel calm and centred. Focus on the details—the sounds, images, and smells.
Other Considerations
• Massage, acupuncture, and acupressure promote relaxation of the body and mind.
• Supplements that help relieve stress include theanine, B-vitamins, and magnesium.
This is discussed further in Section 3 of this book.
• Learn to say no. Taking on too much leads to feeling overwhelmed and pressed for
time. Being able to say no (no excuse needed) when asked to take on a new task
will make you feel empowered and relieved.
• Avoid negativity, as negative people, places, and events can create stress.
• Channel stress in positive ways—exercise, paint, or clean your house.
• Talk about it—share your feelings and concerns and get support from friends, family, or a therapist.

Improving the quality of your sleep and dealing more effectively with stress will bring many health rewards—fewer physical and emotional ailments and overall im- proved well-being. Identify the areas where you are struggling, seek help, and work on adopting positive changes.

I can sympathize with everything, except suffering.