01 Aug Stress- Part 2
Last month’s newsletter began our two part discussion about stress. We spoke about the physiological effects of stress and why stress is a necessary, and sometimes beneficial part of our lives.
In this newsletter, we’ll talk about the negative effects of stress; particularly chronic stress.
The effects of stress on behavior, emotion, and thought:
We all experience stress in different ways and a wide array of physical signs characterize the stress response. Some people blush or sweat; others become pale and cold. The many physical manifestations of stress include: diarrhea or constipation; frequent urination; teeth grinding or jaw clenching; muscle spasms or cramps; headaches; heartburn and nausea; stomach cramps; insomnia; heart palpitations or chest pain; or even hives. Psychologically, stress can also have many differing outcomes. Some will eat plenty while others loose their appetites. Some will become withdrawn and cry while others will laugh nervously. Some will increase reliance on smoking, alcohol or drugs. Many people will experience difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions.
The effects of long-term stress:
Hans Selye (the “father of stress”) experimented on lab animals and found that stressors, both physical and psychological, would consistently cause stomach ulcers, growth of the adrenal glands (which produce stress hormones), and shrinkage of lymphoid tissue (involved in immunity). Chronic, long-term stress, could lead to heart attacks, stroke, arthritis, and kidney disease in these animals.
In humans, stress can cause a number of physical effects. If you look at the list of physiological effects of stress in last month’s newsletter, its not difficult to see how long term stress can have these effects. They include:
Mental/emotional: insomnia, headaches, personality changes, anxiety, depression
Hair: hair loss
Mouth: excessive dryness and ulcer formation
Muscles: spasms particularly in the neck and shoulder muscles; muscle twitches and tics
Heart: cardiovascular disease, hypertension, stroke
Lungs: adverse effect on breathing conditions such as asthma
Digestive tract: stomach ulcers; gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD); aggravation of inflammatory bowel diseases; irritable bowel syndrome; gastritis
Reproductive organs: hindered production of male and female hormones; menstrual disorders; recurrent vaginal infections; impotence; premature ejaculation
Skin: may exacerbate skin conditions such as eczema or psoriasis.
General: increase susceptibility to infections (for example, cold sore outbreaks); increased risk of certain cancers; increased risk of autoimmune conditions (such as rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis); increased risk of substance abuse (alcoholism, drug use, smoking); weight gain (especially around the waist).
So, what can I do about my stress levels?:
Prevention first: try to identify the major, chronic sources of stress in your life. Work on finding ways to avoid them completely if possible, or reduce their impact. If you have too much to do around the house, get some help. If you’re constantly stressed by timelines, take a course in time management. If you find yourself feeling stressed in confrontational situations, consider assertiveness training. Behavior modification can teach you to modify your habits and traits which can be the source of your stress.
Do what you can to fortify yourself: good quality sleep; a diet filled with nutritious foods; and the avoidance of stimulants like caffeine are a good first step.
Take time to relax: we all need time to relax. That being said, scheduling time for relaxation every day is a daunting task. I often counsel my patients to do something small for themselves every day. If possible, do so in the morning- this starts the day on the right track. Take a bath; indulge in a long shower; paint your nails; massage your feet; listen to music; pray; floss your teeth; play with your pets or your children; spend time with family or friends; find a support group; laugh- a lot! No matter what activity you choose, focus on it being your little indulgence for yourself (not merely something you have to do).
Exercise: this is key to stress reduction and stress management. Choose a form of exercise you enjoy and let it be your stress outlet.
Practice parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS)-enhancing techniques on a daily basis: these include deep breathing exercises, meditation, guided imagery, progressive muscle relaxation, prayer, yoga, tai chi.
Seek professional help: you may benefit from massage therapy, hypnosis, acupuncture, biofeedback, or Reiki, especially when done on a regular basis.
Aromatherapy: many essential oils are calming to the nervous system. These include lavender, geranium, chamomile, and clary sage.
Supplements: vitamins and minerals which are essential to adrenal function include the B vitamins (particularly B6 and B5), Vitamin C, and Zinc. Seek the help of a naturopath to help you decide whether, and how much to supplement.
Herbs: Withania, Rhodiola, Astragalus, Siberian Ginseng, Oats, Schizandra, and Holy Basil are amongst my favorites. But these should be taken under supervision.
Homeopathic remedies: complex homeopathic remedies (such as Rescue Remedy) can do wonders for achieving calm in an acute situation.
Take care of your kids: we often forget that kids today can suffer a tremendous amount of stress. Talk to your child about his/her emotions and feelings and incorporate adaptive ways of dealing with stress.
Most importantly: recognize that there are certain situations and people in life which cannot be changed or brought under your control. Work hard to accept these things as they are; it is an empowering feeling to know you can’t change something and be absolutely fine with that reality! For example: there’s no use in being frustrated when you’re late for work because of traffic- you’ve done all you can and now, you may as well sit back and enjoy some music or your favorite morning radio or maybe take the time to practice some deep breathing.
In our stress-filled world, it’s often difficult to get away from every-day pressures. This means that, for most of us, there’s no choice but to take a proactive stance in dealing with chronic stress in order to maintain good health. So, take a deep breath, and add stress-management to your daily “to do list”!
Please Note: This information is for educational purposes only. Consultation with a licensed health care practitioner is recommended for anyone suffering from a health ailment. You are free to use the information in this newsletter or pass it on to others, but please keep it intact and credit it to Dr. Leat Kuzniar, ND.