Why You Should Lower Your Stress Levels

by Mike Lally on October 24, 2012

Virtually all major events in our lives trigger some form of stress. Clearly, for certain situations it is vital to have sufficient coping mechanisms to deal with the stress caused by adverse events. In today’s busy world these experiences are all too commonplace. Stress emanating from career, health, relationships and money issues immediately spring to mind.

I think most people are aware that stress-related illnesses are on the march. Today, more and more people are popping pills. So, what has happened to the relatively mature, well-documented and understood coping mechanisms? Why do they seem to have been somewhat diluted?

Of course, stress can increase just by knowing you are stressed! A doctor who takes your blood pressure realises that the reading will be slightly higher than normal simply by virtue of the patient knowing they are being tested. The human brain is a clever thing, perhaps cleverer that you think!

Whenever we feel threatened, the fight or flight response is automatically activated. This is a primary response that is hard-wired in the neurology of all human beings. By comparison, anger and fear are secondary responses. Once your brain detects any kind of threat to your well-being it will respond at lightning speed. The amygdala acts as a kind of thermostat constantly checking that all is well within. Any kind of threat will result in stress; however, if the threat is somewhat severe your brain will release the hormones cortisol and adrenaline. This is the mechanism that sets off the fight or flight protective response. This is quite normal and is nothing to be unduly concerned about. However, if the problem continues unabated, and the resulting stress is left unchecked, then you may have a future serious medical issue to contend with.

Many people, well, perhaps I speak only for myself, do not relish a visit to the doctor. Obviously, it would be pointless going to see the doctor every time you felt stressed. Generalised symptoms, such as sleeplessness, anxiety, feeling a bit jaded from time to time, are just part of life’s everyday challenges. Most people just get on with it. Thankfully, the weekend comes along to revive our flagging spirits, and, of course, no emotional state lasts forever. Notwithstanding a desire to be sanguine about stress it needs to be understood that so many chronic illnesses are directly attributable to the condition. If we are not careful we can quickly feel overwhelmed and eventually experience burn-out. When we begin to feel overwhelmed by life’s events it is vital that we avoid complacency about our health.

The incidence of depression is not just endemic, it is universally pervasive. Populations are getting fatter, obesity is widespread, literally. Comfort eating is often the root cause. All kinds of addictions including alcoholism, gambling, drug abuse are being treated in every surgery across the planet, or, worse still, not treated at all. Stress is behind much of this unhappiness. Dealing with an event that can alter your life is particularly difficult. For example, losing your job in tough economic times not only affects one person directly, but there are consequences for the whole family. In the blink of an eye the family unit is put under threat. This kind of life-threatening event can lead to illness. Stress is the immediate outcome and it is hard to deal with because the solution is not particularly obvious and may take some time to resolve.

You may already know your stress triggers (job, relationship, or money worries are common), but there can be smaller things as well, such as the daily commuting experience on packed trains, being in an unhappy job, concern about your kids, and so on. It is important to manage your daily stress because it may well hang around.

Now the body will respond to stress in a timely fashion. After all, it is the normal response to a threat, perceived or otherwise. Okay, the problem is well documented, but what is a good solution? How can an individual protect themselves from the unwanted consequences of everyday pressures? We do not all deal with stress in the same manner, some people breeze through sizeable setbacks while others sweat the small stuff. Meditation, exercise, a healthy diet, clear the mind. Any form of vigorous movement will alter your state and release beta-endorphins to make you feel much better. Personally, engaging in any activity that can result in a good laugh is recommended. Laughter not only alters your breathing pattern, it also releases beta-endorphins. Every emotion has a corresponding muscle tension, so learning to relax is important. A good belly laugh is one of nature’s remedies, so seek out any opportunity to engage in a bit of frivolity.

So, use this simple, but compelling list of suggestions: regular exercise, vigorous movement, social engagements, keeping a diary, getting involved with a hobby, focusing attention on other people, meditation, breathing deeply, relaxing your face and neck, having a laugh, taking time out, and revisiting positive memories from the past. Anxiety, for example, is a concern about something that hasn’t yet happened, so living in the moment can bring immediate relief. Finally, it pays to be aware of what your body is telling you. Ask yourself: How do I feel right now? Then take it from there.

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