Stress management is a basic daily requirement in this age of faster, busier, more competitive, plugged in, and dis-connection. Stress has been defined as any change requiring adaptation by the body-mind. If acute, the fight or flight syndrome kicks in to protect us; if chronic, however, stress hormones lead to disease.
The flight or fight response refers to the state of hyper arousal that occurs with an acute stressor – the perception of danger. While evolutionarily designed for our survival, allowing effective reactions to physical threats, its overuse, due to thought patterns which continuously perceive threat, leads to chronic stress with resultant negative health effects.
Stress hormones, released into the blood stream during a real or perceived danger cause elevation of blood pressure which can become chronic. Cortisol causes increases blood sugar, making us prone to insulin resistance, diabetes, and obesity while depressing the immune system, leaving us prone to a wide variety of diseases.
The science of psychoneuroimmunology demonstrates how our minds and bodies are intimately connected, allowing the immune system to “hear” everything we think. Our beliefs, thoughts, attitudes and values, all of which are often formed and conditioned in childhood, affect the release of stress hormones with their deleterious effects on the immune system. Taking steps to effect positive change through challenging our thoughts and beliefs can reduce our risk of illness. Research has found that some people, scoring high on standard stress rating scales, remain healthy while others succumb to disease. It was discovered that those with a “stress hardy personality” remained healthy due to three attributes which can be developed in all of us: commitment, control, and challenge.
Also, changing one’s attitude can be an enormous benefit to health as we perceive events in a different light. Seeing crisis as opportunity, for example, is a major shift away from the “awfulizing” that often occurs when we perceive events as catastrophic. (Studies have shown that it is the meaning we ascribe to an event that determines our response and our ability to cope.) Other stress reduction techniques include the use of laughter, diet, music, exercise, presence, journaling, “venting,” and massage or bodywork. Stress management, undertaken with these and other techniques, can be quite enjoyable as we learn to decompress while engaging in activities we love!