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Stress and Your Health

By Tiffany Reiss
Contributor, Sports & Fitness Network

Stress Tiffany ReissI think it’s fair to say that most of us stay pretty stressed these days.  There seems to be a lot to be stressed about.  Stress has always intrigued me personally.  My personality seems to be naturally anxiety ridden.  I find any unfamiliar situation potentially threatening and therefore stressful.  I worry.  I debate pros and cons in my head.  I calculate the odds of survival every time I step into an elevator and what I would do if the cable were to break.  Tall buildings are not my friend. I don’t like heights much either.  Now logically, I know the odds of an elevator cable snapping are minimal.  I know that in the long run, everything seems to work out, even if not the way I wanted it to.  I know that worrying about things is unproductive and unhealthy.  But what interest me most about stress is the reality that it’s all in my head.  It’s my perception of an event that makes it stressful for me.   This is true of stress in general.  It’s literally all in our heads.  This is why one individual can thrive in a particular situation and someone else wilts.

Now we could have all kinds of “Matrix” conversations about what’s real but it is true that our perceptions are what dictates our stress levels.  Why is this important to know?  Well the issue is we now better understand the role stress plays in overall health.  Truth is a little stress in our lives is good. It forces us to change and adapt to a more challenging environment or experience.  Too much chronic stress however, not good for our health.  Interestingly, it’s relative.  Too much stress for one individual might be just enough to motivate someone else.  Here is what we know about how stress impacts health:

1) Immune Function: Stress can actually depress our immune systems leaving us more vulnerable to both acute and chronic illnesses.

2) Sleep: Stress often impacts our sleep quality. This can lead to a myriad of other health problems such as weight gain, fatigue and memory problems.  Sleep deprivation also influences our immune systems as well because now that’s a secondary stressor on the body.

3) Weight gain: When we perceive a threat, the body goes into “Fight or Flight” mode (real threat or not) and this can cause the sympathetic nervous system to go into overdrive releasing a cascade of hormones that are linked to weight gain.   The body thinks there is some kind of imminent threat so it thinks it needs to store energy and the best way to do that is to make us hungry and crave foods that are higher in calories, sugar and fat.  Best way to store energy we might potentially need.  But in reality, because we aren’t likely going to be fleeing from a wild animal, we don’t really need all of those excess calories.

Stress isn’t going away.  We will likely deal with it in some capacity for the remainder of our lives.  So if we can’t get rid of it the key is to have a toolbox to fall back on to helps us process it and deal with it better.  For people like me, it’s vital.   Here are some proven ways to help manage the daily stress in our lives:

1) Know your triggers.

2) Pay attention to how you react to the stressor.

3) Know ways to help you manage it.  Some proven methods are: time management, meditation, deep breathing, exercise, art or music therapy, and journaling.

Or just change your perception.  The glass is half full, the glass is half full, the glass is half full!

Additional Resources:

http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/stress/SR00001

http://www.webmd.com/diet/features/can-stress-cause-weight-gain

http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2010/06/23/18-ways-to-manage-stress/

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