Stress Related News and Research
|Stressing less is good for your mind and body|
Stress is a word bandied about all of the time that bears looking at more closely. Most everyone talks about “stressing” and being “stressed out.” We think of the classic fight-flight-freeze response to facing a lion or tiger or bear. Or we associate it with all of the demands of family, work, relationships, and the constant pressures of this modern, increasingly technological, and often scary life.
Our bodies are hard-wired so that we can automatically meet pressure and danger with heightened alertness, strength and stamina. We get big surges of adrenaline, and our systems are flooded with stress hormones. Neural activity moves instantly from our higher-reasoning pre-frontal cortex to limbic-lizard brain, so that we can be pumped and in gear fast! “Good stress” definitely exists, and it’s a great thing. It gives us super-charged motivation and power to do extra-ordinary things. We’re able to face fear, meet deadlines, accomplish, compete, and can even save our own and others’ lives.
On the other hand, most of us are living every day with the effects of what I’ve come to call “The Stress Mess.” There seems to be a tipping point where the extra energy of good stress starts taking a negative toll, zapping our clarity, and negatively impacting our health and productivity. We lose rational thinking, better judgment and good decision-making. Emotional intelligence and patience go down, causing anxiety and reactivity, with dramatic consequences in our communication and relationships. Healthy eating, exercise and sleep all suffer. Blood pressure goes up and physical symptoms set in—fatigue, headaches, backaches, rashes, hypertension and even killer diseases.
So, it’s not enough just to toss the word around and think it’s “normal,” or “not so bad.” We really need to know when we’re heading down the slippery slope of bad stress, and how to Stress Less! First, keep these essentials in mind:
• Stress is a biochemical, neuro-physiological happening in your body.
• Too much, or prolonged, stress taxes and breaks down your immune system.
• Addictive behaviors increase under stress.
• If you don’t take action, you’ll get caught up in a destructive Stress Syndrome, which can be very costly.
Remember that the constant release of stress bio-chemicals means that you are literally operating under the influence, just like on drugs, and your nervous system is on high alert. You may feel like you’re always in some state of emergency. The adrenaline (speed) is addicting. It becomes more and more difficult to slow down, sleep properly, think clearly, break the cycle and clear up the messes of stress.
When I conduct stress management trainings for business leaders, I ask them: How do you look, sound and feel when you’re in your bad stress; and how does this affect the environment in your company, your home, and inside your body?
Within 10 minutes, the whiteboard fills up with words like: tense, curt, loud, critical, irritable, impatient, no empathy, bossy, pessimistic, tunnel vision, lose weight, gain weight, eat junk, drink, smoke, swear, go silent, unavailable, sleep more, can’t sleep, wake up, ruminate, they know, they steer clear, they get stressed, etc.
If it’s hard to pay attention to your own signals, try getting feedback from your partner or kids or co-workers. They can tell when you’re stressed out, and it’s not a pretty or constructive thing, or any fun for anyone.
Now, here’s the good news: Stress is a response—and you can respond differently! Here’s a list of familiar, do-able and enjoyable ways to Stress Less:
• Find your center and balance.
• Eat healthier—more protein, fruits and vegetables, and less sugar, carbs, artificial additives & preservatives.
• Drink more water and less alcohol and sugary drinks.
• Have fun!
• Do things every day that make you laugh, smile and feel happy.
• Practice kindness.
• Make your vocabulary positive!
• Surround yourself with beautiful people and things.
• Rest & sleep!
• Get support.
• Take action.
• Help somebody else.
• Spend time with friends, family, kids and pets.
• Go outside and be in nature.
• Pursue a hobby you love.
• Take breaks & vacations.
• Limit time on electronics, devices, social media and the news.
• Get a massage.
• Immerse in water.
• Listen to music.
• Move, dance and sing!
• Let go and lighten up.
• Physical affection—give it and get it!
What’s not to like about doctor’s orders to take more healthy, happy breaks, and to do things daily that refresh and renew you? What wouldn’t work about enjoying more re-creation, knowing that it clears the way to greater productivity and creation?!
While stressing is nothing new, you may be feeling especially anxious, fearful, exhausted and even traumatized these days. Please know that you’re not crazy and not alone. We’re in very weird times, and 2017 has been an especially unkind year: massive natural disasters, hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, tornadoes, shootings, fires and dysfunctional government.
The unimaginably foul social and political climate is being led by a chaotic, clinically deranged president who directly threatens the well-being and very lives of immigrants, people of color, women, our LGBTQ community, refugees, differently-abled people and the planet itself. The national atmosphere of stress is so pervasive that Thomas Plante, Ph.D, adjunct clinical professor of psychiatry at (my alma mater) Stanford University, is suggesting a new diagnosis: AAA/Acute American Anxiety Disorder.
With this proliferation of stress, and the holidays almost here, I suggest taking a regular read of your “Stress-O-Meter.” Watch for the next articles in this series, where I’ll provide some specific exercises to quickly tame those crazy-making bio-chemicals. Please remind yourself and everyone in your life that it’s more important than ever to take steps to Stress Less, every day. We’ll all feel better, and have our good mojo to do what needs to be done to take back our country from the stress monsters running rampant over our lives and well-being!