“I am so stressed out today!”
How many times lately have you said or heard this expression? “Stress” has become such a common household word that we use it to describe everything from the rush of the morning commute to the hours of homework our children complete after their mandatory club soccer practices. The average person who I see in my practice is on six to ten medications. Young boys are on Ritalin for attention deficit problems and girls are on anti-depressants. Why? The culprit is stress.
Most often, you are speaking of emotional stress when you use the “s” word. Stress is harmful because stress imbalances every hormone system in your body. To achieve optimum health and an ideal body composition, you must focus on regular stress management.
When you experience a stressor, there are three phases to your response: 1) the stressful event, 2) your inner appraisal of it, and 3) your body’s reaction. The stress response is difficult to handle because once it begins, the mind has no control over it. Sitting in traffic or being criticized at work can trigger a stress response –the “fight-or-flight” reaction – that has no hope of being physically carried out, thus dissipating the hormones that create the body’s call to action.
Although you may not be able to control the stressful event — or your body’s reaction to it — your inner appraisal of it, the link between the event and your reaction, is up to you. The totally personal way in which you filter all events determines how stressful they are. Everyone has a different level of stress tolerance. What seems to create the greatest perceived threat in any given situation are these three factors: 1) lack of predictability, 2) lack of control, 3) lack of outlets for frustration.
The sympathetic nervous system regulates the fight-or-flight response. When this system is under attack from a stressor, it turns down the immune system and you have a greater chance of being sick. A growing body of research indicates that activity levels of cells that identify and destroy cancer are likely to be lower in people experiencing high levels of stress.
When the sympathetic system is activated for a period of time, the system turns to “sympathetic dominant” mode, where the system is compromised by stress. The second, even more serious stage, is “sympathetic shock” to describe a condition where the mind-body system has been so totally overloaded by one or more stressors that the immune system is shocked and is repressed.
As you internalize the memory of events you perceive to be stressful, your conditioned response becomes reinforced to the point that the expectation of the event becomes the stressor. There are techniques to break the emotional stress cycle that involve “erasing” the old habitual way of thinking and reacting to a stressor with a new way that creates a more healthful, life-enhancing response.
The intelligence that made your body and runs your body can heal your body.