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September 2020 Newsletter
You are sitting in traffic, late for an important meeting, you are facing a work presentation or a mountain of bills. Your hypothalamus, a tiny control tower in your brain, decides to send out the order: send in the stress hormones! It increases your heart and breathing rates and ready your muscles to respond. This response is originally designed to protect your body in an emergency by preparing you to react quickly. However, while our bodies are well equipped to handle stress in small doses, when the stress response keeps firing day after day it can have serious effects on your physical and mental health. The topic of this month’s Newsletter is chronic stress, a highly common health-related issue in our hyperconnected world.
Stress is a natural physical and mental reaction to life experiences. Our body is designed to experience stress and react to it, and stress can be positive keeping us alert, motivated and ready to avoid danger. Stress becomes negative (“distress”) when a person faces continuous challenges without relief or relaxation between challenges. As a result, the person becomes overworked and stress-related tension builds. Knowing how to spot the signs and symptoms that you are under too much stress can help you stay aware and address the issues before they harm your health. You may have physical symptoms such as headaches, high blood pressure, an upset stomach, chest pain in some cases, or emotional symptoms including:
Over time, stress hormones will weaken your immune system and reduce your body’s response to foreign invaders. People under chronic stress are more susceptible to viral illnesses like the flu and the common cold, as well as other infections. Chronic stress affects the muscular system too, since muscles may not get the chance to relax. Tight muscles cause headache, back and shoulder pain, and body aches. Recent research which has received widespread media coverage also showed how stress is linked to heart and circulatory disease in humans. Chronic stress is a risk factor for heart disease and it may lead to a heart attack.
– Be observant and recognize the signs of your body’s response to stress, such as feeling depressed, being easily angered or having difficulty sleeping.
– Get regular exercise, because it reduces the level of the body’s stress hormones such as adrenalin and cortisol, and stimulates the production of endorphins.
– Explore a relaxation program, such as yoga, tai chi or meditation, which incorporates muscle relaxation and breathing exercises.
– Assert your feelings, opinions or beliefs instead of becoming angry, defensive or passive. It is important to accept that there are events which cannot be controlled.
– Stay connected: keep in touch with people you enjoy or who can provide emotional support and practical help.
– Set goals and priorities: prioritize people and activities, and learn how to say no to new tasks.
As we have seen chronic stress can affect your body, your mood and your behaviour. Some people may rely on alcohol, drugs or compulsive behaviours to reduce stress which will set off an unhealthy cycle. Only the people who learn how to manage stress in a healthy manner can improve their overall well-being.
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