Stress leads to disease, anxiety disorders and depression
Actually good health depends on living a less stressful life more of the time,yet the holiday season tends to bring out the stress in all of us. Before I make some suggestions about how to be less stressed this time of year I want to share the highlights of some new research from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh on how stress can actually bring on sickness and disease.
When we are stressed out our body starts pumping adrenaline and other stress hormones in order to get us focused and ready for action. That works great if you’ve just come upon a bear in the woods and need to get away but it’s not so helpful when you are stressed out by a long shopping list or worrying about how to get the house ready for holiday guests.
If we are stressed out much of the time, these stress hormones don’t help us but actually start causing chronic inflammation, blood vessel damage and can lead to various types of sickness.
Many doctors have historically tended to deny how much stress can cause illness; probably because it didn’t fit into their scientific model of medicine. That’s changing with the help of Carnegie Mellon. Researchers there found that stressed out people are more likely to:
- Gain weight even if you are consuming less calories!
- Get sick more easily when exposed to a cold virus
- Heal more slowly from a wound
- Sleep less, causing a downward spiral in your ability to ward off disease
- Make you more prone to a heart attack or other heart disease
- Cause you to get depressed
- Cause ulcers or other stomach problems
- Create back, neck and shoulder pain
Do you find yourself suffering from any of these stress-related symptoms?
If so some stress management 101 techniques might be helpful to you.
The Source of Stress:
- Understand that you create your own stress. How? By imagining what is going to happen and then not wanting that future you imagined to happen in the way you imagined. Then you start worrying about the dreaded future you just made up and stress yourself out. Truth is that none of us can predict the future so, why not make up a positive future outcome so you don’t have to worry? Too simple? Well, the truth is that it’s easier said then done. Even so, learning to catch yourself inventing dreadful futures and stopping that bad thought habit before it carries you away can really help your overall health.
- So stress happens when we worry about the future or re-hash the past. Focus on the present to lower stress. What being present looks like is simply the intentional act of paying attention to what you are doing right now. This means not thinking about something past or future while doing an activity. If you are vacuuming, pay attention to the experience of vacuuming. If you are exercising resist listening to the news and feel your body from the inside out while exercising so you know what the experience of exercising is.
Ways to lower stress
- Mindfulness – Learn the basics of mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness meditation teaches us to watch our mind, learn to catch it running amok sooner and trains us to “let those self-destructive thoughts go!”
- Exercise – Regular exercise is one of the best ways to lower stress and to feel better about ourselves in general. The endorphin’s released by exercise are better then any drug or alcohol you can purchase. You don’t have to be a jock to benefit. Walk, take a yoga or other exercise class, or garden. Anything that gets your joints moving and your heart rate to rise is helpful.
- Reward Yourself With Things You Enjoy – This is especially true during the holiday season. Choose to do less holiday things and focus on your creative outlets and other pleasurable activities you look forward to.
- Don’t Over-Drink – Alcohol give you an immediate sense of relaxation but over-doing it means interrupted sleep patterns, hangovers and and irritability the next day. These things increase stress.
- Get Enough Sleep – You aren’t able to make good decisions and manage your stress if you aren’t sleeping.
- Limit your exposure to the News – There isn’t 24 hours of news so the 24 hour news cycle has to create drama in order to keep your attention. It’s a lot of noise about things you can’t do anything about anyway. Read a paper or listen or watch one hour or less of news each day from a high quality news outlet. Stay away from the 24 hour news channels. Have a meaningful conversation with a good companion instead.
- Feelings – Talk about them with someone who is a good listener. Repressing our emotions leads to stress which over time leads to anxiety which can lead to depression. We are not wired to repress our feelings. Sharing our feelings with someone who listens and doesn’t tell you you are wrong or tell you what to do is an intimate act especially if the other person then shares their inner world with you.
- Identify your Stress Triggers – Get clear on what situations cause you to get stressed out. Then take time out of your day to sit down and look carefully at those situations to see what you can do to change the nature of those interactions. Ask yourself questions like: Do I need to put myself into this situation? Can I interact with the situation in a different way that allows me not to get anxious? Can I take charge of something so that I don’t feel so out of control? Can I let go of needing to control this? What are the true likely outcomes if things don’t go my way? How bad would things really get and how likely is that to happen?
- Don’t over-Commit Yourself – Are you making your leisure and personal creative time as high of a priority as everything else in your life? If not, you are going to be stressed out. What are the things that allow you to re-charge your batteries and feel relaxed and happy? Move them up on your to do list.
There’s more to stress management then what I’ve listed above. Try the basics of watching your mind, not making up dreadful futures, exercising and prioritizing your “personal battery recharge time” over social time.
Feel free to leave me a message or contact me by clicking on my “Contact” page at the top of the page with your questions. I’m available for consultation in my office or phone until Christmas Eve.
Have a fun, relaxing and joyful holiday season!
Are you ready to learn how to stress less?
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