Stress – Very Bad , or is it?

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Everyone knows that stress is bad, but does anyone really know what to do about it? We come to accept a certain level of stress in our every day lives because we think its just part of how modern life is meant to be. In a certain way, that’s true, there are certain things that we live with now which won’t change just because we wish they would be different.

Millions of years ago, when humans lived in caves, stress was being chased by tigers. Our bodies developed certain mechanisms for responding to moments of severe danger. Knowing when to run, when to stand still, when to hide, were good survival mechanisms. They still are today, like the song by Kenny Rogers, The Gambler, knowing when to fold em etc, is a valuable tool. Its still important to be able to respond when you hear a big noise in the night, or when a car comes flying at you too fast, or even when theres a big spider in your bed.

When we are stressed, our fight or flight mechanism kicks in getting us ready to flee. The adrenal glands send out cortisol which sets up a whole chain reaction. In order to flee, our muscles need fuel, so blood is taken away from the digestion and sent to the muscles. Insulin gets squirted out to give our muscles sugar to run with. The muscles tense up and get ready to run – your neck arches back, shoulders hunch up, fists clench, knees bend, and your back arches like at the start of a relay race. Your brain stops thinking and goes into reaction mode. Your reproductive organs stop functioning because they aren’t needed in this moment.

When a tiger is chasing us, we release cortisol into our blood stream telling us to RUN!!! Good idea. But if there’s no tiger, and our body tells us to run while we’re sitting in traffic, or having a fight with our husband, that shot of cortisol has no outlet. All of the same physiologic things happen but we don’t actually run, or stop and fight. Try it as an exercise, get your body ready as if someone were going to attack you. Feel what that feels like, and then go through the motions of escaping the attack, run, or hide or whatever you would do. Notice that if you take the action, you feel better than if you just sit there with the feeling. 

Over time, chronic stress begins to take its toll on your body. Ulcers, stomach problem, other digestive problems, sexual problems, blood sugar problems, chronic anxiety, sleep problems, weight control issues, high blood pressure, and many other problems come from chronic stress. 

Recognizing that most people have different reasons for feeling stressed in our modern lives allows us to begin to realize that we need to figure out ways to cope. There are many choices but three basics help everyone. Cardio exercise, deep breathing, and relaxation.

Regular cardiovascular exercise disperses the cortisol because it gives our bodies the physical release it needs to have. Deep breathing helps release the muscle tension by moving oxygen and blood through the tissues and clearing the cortisol out. Conscious relaxation exercises help to calm you down. You can create your own such as sitting down with a cup of tea – which has certain chemicals that actually do relax you called theanine. Or lighting a candle, or listening to soft music. Many people relax by having a glass of wine or beer, which is okay as long as you don’t have too much. 

If those things don’t help, seek some sort of professional help to get a handle on the stress. There are many types of therapy, massage, acupuncture, and supplements which will help balance your body so that it will cope better. 

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