Chronic Stress is a National Epidemic
Chronic stress is a national epidemic that is taking a toll on everyone’s life and health. Why is this? What is going on? We are living in a world that is placing more and more demands on our time. Are you feeling pulled in various directions continuously? Do your daily responsibilities involve spending time in front of a computer, on a cell phone, caring for family members, community and work commitments? If so, you are not alone. These are just some of the activities that can be contributing to your long term chronic stress.
The degree to how each of us handles stress is not easy to measure. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), women report higher stress levels than men, but this may only be because women are less likely to deny that they are suffering from stress. Many men report that they consider that saying they are stressed would be an admission of weakness or failure. Men also consider stress management less important than women do, with only 52% of men considering it very important or extremely important, versus 62% of women.
What Causes Stress?
Looking at what causes stress can be vital in helping us to understand how to manage and handle all of the different types of stress in our lives.
Biologically, stress is a natural and healthy response to a difficult situation. Faced with some kind of pressure or threat, the body heightens its stress resistance by releasing extra adrenaline, cortisol and related hormones that prepare us for physical exertion: the ‘fight or flight’ response. This gives you the energy needed to respond to an acute stressor. In response to this acute stressor the body will shut down your digestion so that all energy can be directed to the muscles, increase your heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, make you sweat, and may even cause you to have diarrhea, nausea, and stomach pain.
All of these things are very useful if you are about to be attacked by a man-eating tiger, or even a mugger. The problem is that the body does not know what type of pressure or threat it is facing, and the physical response is not appropriate to most kinds of modern day stressors. What causes stress today is often not a physical problem at all. When faced with a situation such as an important test in college or a serious financial problem at home, the ‘fight or flight’ response is not useful. There is nobody to fight, and running away will not achieve your long term goals.
So the body does not get to use the hormones it has prepared to energize you in either of these situations. If what causes stress in your life is not a physically dangerous situation, these hormones may never get to be released in action. They build up in your system while the stressful situation continues, causing damage in the long term if you do not take steps to manage and release them. This results in chronic stress. So what constitutes chronic stress and why should you be concerned about it?
Chronic stress means stress that continues over a long period of time. It could be severe but equally, it may be low level, background stress that you are hardly even aware of. Many people who suffer from chronic stress think that it is a normal part of life. Causes of chronic stress can include unhappiness in relationships, ongoing pressure at work, financial issues or problems in the environment like poor housing or pollution.
Chronic stress is characterized by a continual release of stress hormones, usually at lower levels than in acute stress but over such a long period of time that they build up and cause secondary stress symptoms.
Having chronic stress means that the body is never quite able to devote enough resources to its normal functions, so the symptoms can include almost anything that a person has a tendency to suffer from. Some of the most common chronic stress symptoms are:
- Chronic back pain or other muscular pains
- Frequent viral illnesses
- Fatigue, depression, anxiety attacks, irritability, mood swings
- Weight loss or gain (from loss of appetite or over-eating)
- Lower fertility and other issues of the reproductive system such as menstrual problems for women, erectile dysfunction for men
- Frequent asthma attacks and allergic reactions
- Episodes of autoimmune diseases including rheumatoid arthritis, eczema, psoriasis, Crohn’s disease, gastritis, lupus and even cancer
- High blood pressure
- Irregular heartbeat, cardiac disease or heart attack
These are all the top reasons that people seek medical care. Chronic stress is costing billions of dollars annually in not only health care costs, but also lost days at work. Would it not be nice if there was a proclamation that every day all across America that everything stopped for a 10 minute meditation break? That would make a great study to see if it reduced health care costs, lost days at work, and improved overall sense of well-being. Since this likely won’t happen, what are 3 things that you can start doing today to start relieving your chronic day to day stress?
More and more people are turning to natural stress relief to deal with both temporary and long term chronic stress. The best kind of stress relief does not come in a prescription drug but rather comes from 100% natural stress reducing techniques. Things like exercise, eating a healthy diet, practicing relaxation, meditation or yoga – all of these things can help your body to deal with stress in a completely natural way. Let’s look at 3 techniques you can start using today.
Breathe! Slow deep breathing exercise can go a long way to help calm your nerves. Here is a simple exercise.
Breathe slowly in through your nose for five seconds, then hold your breath for five seconds, then breathe slowly out through your mouth for five seconds. Do this several times until you feel yourself starting to calm down. Try it now.
Meditation is simply the process of being present, and focusing and quieting the mind. This can be achieved by sitting quietly. Sitting on the ground can further enhance this experience as it helps to “ground” you. Many will recite a mantra while meditating. The most common mantra is OM. It is believe to create a resonance in the body and that it puts one in touch with a universal energy and thereby relaxes the mind, and body.
Yoga is an ancient form of relaxation and exercise that can help relieve physical and mental stress. Yoga incorporates breathing, meditation, and exercise all at the same time. It helps support self healing. Yoga has grown in popularity for both women and men.
Chronic stress is a part of life, but you can lessen its effect on your physical and mental well-being by incorporating a daily stress relieving practice. There are many techniques you can use. Find what works best for you. Your body will thank you.
If you would like to learn more about additional ways to relieve stress and improve your overall health you can read, “Seeds 4 Change: A Path to Health and Healing”. You can also read an earlier post, “8 Stress Relievers to Help You Survive the Holidays”.