Stress can come from a wide variety of source… our jobs, family obligations, finances and so on.
Usually these stressors are short term (acute) and once we deal with the stressful situation, we move on. There is even a type of stress that is considered “good” stress – that which makes us feel vital and alive. This type of stress (called eustress) is experienced when we are doing things like competing in a race, or rushing against a deadline. Usually the stress passes, and there is little effect on our overall health and wellbeing. However, we may find ourselves under “chronic” stress when these situations go on long term without relief. These stressors can come from the above sources when there is no relief from the stress, and often feel inescapable and never-ending. Dealing with a long term difficult relationship, facing a chronic illness, or having a very taxing job can all lead to chronic stress. We all experience some level of stress in our daily
lives. This is why stress management is so important.
When we are faced with stress, it can trigger the body’s response to perceived threat or danger; the Fight-or-Flight response. During this reaction, certain hormones like adrenalin and cortisol are released, speeding the heart rate, slowing digestion, shunting blood flow to major muscle groups, and changing various other autonomic nervous functions. This gives the body a burst of energy and strength. When the perceived threat is gone, our body systems are designed to return to normal function via the relaxation response. However, in times of chronic stress this relaxation response doesn’t happen, ultimately causing damage to the body.
When faced with chronic stress and an over-activated autonomic nervous system, people begin to see physical symptoms. These are usually mild to start, like chronic headaches, trouble sleeping or increased susceptibility to illness, such as colds. With more exposure to chronic stress, more serious health problems may develop. These may include depression, high blood pressure, heart disease or stroke, diabetes, or anxiety disorders. Those under chronic stress may have difficulty with concentration, trouble remembering things, and loss of appetite.
To deal with stress, we often turn to “bad habits” to make us feel better. Things like smoking, drinking, gambling and compulsive shopping may make us feel better momentarily, but we need to develop healthy ways for dealing with stress. This is where stress management comes into the picture. While there is no magic pill for eliminating stress, developing “healthy habits” for dealing with the stress can have huge benefits to our health. Relaxation techniques can lower our blood pressure, alter our brain waves and affect our mood and behavior.
Some easy, inexpensive relaxation techniques include deep breathing exercises, meditation, music, journaling, aromatherapy, exercise and participating in hobbies or games. One new relaxation craze to hit our country is “adult coloring books”. These books usually contain intricate, geometric shapes (mandalas). “It calms us down to be coloring”, Linda Turner, a licensed creative arts psychotherapist in Manhattan, explained recently to Yahoo news. So grab some colored pencils and try coloring to lower your stress!