Stress. Let’s face it. We all have it. The people who don’t read this article are simply in denial or aren’t ready to face it. Stress is the kudzu that looks pretty benign at first,but then takes over everything. It grows out of control. This can lead to adrenal fatigue, which we’ll get in to through a future column. We need to figure out how to become more aware of it in order to address it head on.
Stress comes in many forms…be prepared – I’m about to mention some examples. If they hit home with you, then that feeling you get deep in your chest as I mention them, is the stress response! Ever cram for a final test? Stay up all night with a fussy child? Late for work? Have a big presentation to give? Need to get 4 kids to 7 different places after school in traffic (I raised my hand on this one!)? Been diagnosed with an illness? Cancer? Facing a move? Retiring? And the list goes on. And here’s the thing – depending on how you mentally respond, any situation could or could not be stressful.
Stress disrupts sleep and eating habits, alters hormones, increases risk of illness and accelerates aging just to name a few. It’s like a bridle to a horse – it has the ability to influence everything else in our lives. Tired all the time? It’s probably stress causing that or could at least be a significant factor. Here’s a good way to test if stress is built in to your daily routine – are you reactive or proactive most of the day? Do you just put out small fire after small fire – answering your phone every time in dings? Responding to email every 5 minutes? Starting several tasks but not completing any before something else pulls you away? If your response is yes, then you’re reactive. This is the opposite of proactive, which is the key to carrying around less stress. Proactive is planning and then having a good idea of how your day/week/month/year will unfold. In a life where reactive is the norm, stress is the norm.
As I eluded to above, many times stress is a decision we make in our minds. I have a wonderful friend who, God bless her, turns everything, even a decision about whether or not to put sugar in her tea, in to a live or die, extreme stress and life altering decision. She lives in this uber-stress zone that I don’t even have enough mental capacity or energy to fathom! This is just cruising for an early heart attack!
Another part of moving towards minimizing stress is that it’s counter cultural. Just watch a few commercials – the American culture is all about being driven, doing more, having more, never settling, and on and on. Don’t get me wrong, there are some good caveats to American culture, but the undue stress it put on us through, most times, unachievable expectations is not one of them. It’s the perpetual drive for more that breaks us eventually. Sometimes we just need to have an awareness of the moment we are in and be content in that. I think it would lead to less stress not to mention likely freeing our time up more for ourselves, our families, sleep, and whatever else we wanted to do that felt less stressful and more rewarding.
Ever had someone sneak up and scare you?! I’ll admit, I’m that dad who does it to his kids! That feeling you get is adrenaline from your adrenal glands. How about long term stress, like having a weekly office meeting where you have to present accomplishments? Cortisol is the longer term hormone released from the adrenals to adjust to stress. How about when that runs out? Like when you’re a mother of an infant and you get up with them 2-5 times (yes, that many times for those of you who haven’t had children yet!) per night for up to a year?! That’s when cortisol reserves are depleted and you move towards burnout or ‘adrenal fatigue’. Stress tells your body through all these phases to release fancy things like interleukin-6 and C reactive protein which cause inflammation. Inflammation is the gateway to almost all the long term issue related to stress like heart disease, high blood pressure, lowered immunity (ie you get sick more often), poor wound healing, weight gain, insomnia, fatigue, and memory impairment.
Well, if I left you there, it would be depressing and add to your stress. Here’s a list of just a few simple things you can do to lower your stress level and get back to what normal should feel like:
Get more sleep. Just turn the TV off sooner or put your phone down and do it. You’ll feel better.
Wake up 5 minutes earlier and use that time for quiet reflection and/or to plan you day – you’d be amazed what a difference this makes!
Turn you phone off for part of the day. Heresy, I know! But 20 years ago, if you were driving somewhere for an hour and a half, nobody could reach you and the world didn’t end, did it?
Schedule your priorities don’t prioritize your schedule. Cheesy I know…but catchy!
Get bored. Spend some time doing absolutely nothing… ironically, you’ll get something out of it!
Prepare and cook a meal with a significant other. It’s therapeutic and will enhance your relationship.
That’s just a few things. There are thousands of other applications. The challenge for you today is to be aware of stress in your life and pick 1-2 things to do to address it. Trust me, it’ll put a smile on your face!
Dr. Thomas is a board-certified physician who operates Complete Health Integrative Wellness Clinic and Thomas Urology Clinic in Starkville, Mississippi.
This newspaper column is for informational purposes only and is, under no circumstances, intended to constitute medical advice or to create or continue a physician-patient relationship. If you have a medical emergency, you should immediately seek care from your nearest emergency room, and if you have specific health questions, you should consult your own physician.