How to recognize stress before it takes
over your life.
Stress affects different people in different ways, but affect
them it does. Whether you recognize it or not, if you are stressed, it is
only a matter of time before something has to give - and that something is
likely to be you!
So what exactly is stress, and what does it do to you?
Stress is a collective term for a whole series of effects, mental, physical
and emotional, that occur as a result of excess.
Excess work, excessive partying,
excess food, excessive crying by the baby - it doesn't't matter which. By
definition, you are doing more to your body than it can cope with and sooner
it is going to let you know - usually in a hurry and with little or no warning.
What is common to virtually all types of stress is that they result in release
of the stress hormone - adrenaline (epinephrine).
Although adrenaline is entirely
necessary and has essential functions in the body, it can, like most things,
cause problems in excess. As a hormone (definition - a chemical released
in one part of the body that has effects on other, distant parts of the body),
very small increases in adrenaline have very large effects on the host, a.k.a.
YOU. Hormones are incredibly potent by nature and even a small increase can
have hugely significant effects. In the case of adrenaline, these effects
increase heart rate, faster breathing, higher blood pressure and reduced
The easiest way to understand the effects of adrenaline is to
think of the "fight or flight" response. We have all experienced that rush you get when faced with a sudden fright or imminent danger - pounding heart, knotted stomach, tingling palms and acute awareness. This is the body's way of preparing either to confront the situation at hand - "fight", or get the hell out of there - "flight", hence the name.
In nature it is invariably followed by an intense period of physical
activity (either running away or battle) which "burns up" the
adrenaline, allowing a return to the normal, resting state. It is when
this physical activity does't happen that stress becomes dangerous.
When a period of stress is prolonged, and especially when it
is not followed by some form of physical exertion to "relieve the pressure", several things happen. Firstly, all forms of stress are cumulative - that is, they add up on one another, building up more and more pressure on the system and requiring more and more "release" to restore balance.
As a result, the levels of adrenaline build up in the body, causing
chronic, long-term increases in blood pressure, heart rate etc, which are
themselves damaging, requiring more and more repairs by the body to put them
right. The conequence of this is that stores of nutrients, vitamins, minerals,
enzymes, balancing hormones and all sorts of other "goodies" are
used up (if you drive with your engine at 6000 revs instead of 2500
you use more fuel, more oil, and your engine wears out faster - the body
is no different).
This leaves your body in something of a dilemma. It needs to
replace the things you have used up, and fast. However, if you are still
stressed, your digestive system is all but shut down, so you can't
body is not interested in that - it needs those nutrients and it
needs them NOW, so it has to get them from ANY source possible.
body processes that are not ESSENTIAL to survival right now get
reduced or even shut down completely to conserve energy and nutrients.
If this isn't
enough of itself, additional nutrients have to be found from
any possible source. In extreme cases, this means that your body starts
down existing structures - muscle, bone, connective tissue etc.,
the nutrients from them for use elsewhere.
Clearly, this is not a good thing long-term, and its results
are as predictable as they are damaging. What started as a position
and "ease" becomes a position of imbalance and "dis-ease" or
disease! This one fact accounts for virtually all chronic disease. What at
first perhaps seemed preposterous, now becomes obvious.
Recognizing stress comes down to two things. Firstly you must recognize
that you are stressed and secondly you need to identify the sources
of your stress.
Discovering that you are stressed is not so difficult for most
people. If you have chronic disease of any kind, e.g. high blood
skin problems, arthritis, diabetes, osteoporosis etc, then your
body is suffering from at least one major source of stress. ALL
disease is a sign of
stress on one or more body systems and, as stated by twice Nobel
laureate, Linus Pauling, is a sign of a specific nutritional
that stress can, and does take many forms, not all of which are
straightforward or even obvious.
Identifying the specific source (or sources) of your stress
is not so simple. Perhaps you get stressed in specific situations,
times of day
or in response to certain people, events or situations. Maybe
it is a
certain physical activity that leaves you feeling stressed, some
element, an environmental factor such as driving, a noisy home
or the ring of the 'phone (or baby crying).
You may even get
palpitations, a throbbing
pulse or chronic muscle/other pains caused by being too "tense" or any other
variety of symptoms, but that I all they are - symptoms of a greater, and more
fundamental problem that if dealt with, will go away by themselves with little
or no specific help from you.
Most people will benefit from seeing a suitably qualified alternative
medicine practitioner dealing in one of the stress-related fields
such as acupuncture,
reflexology, massage, reiki, kinesiology etc.
such as Tai Chi and yoga will help you not just to relax, but
to identify where the
stresses are in your body in order that you treat them specifically.
Medical tests will help to define irregularities in your system
that reflect the
sources of your stress, therefore helping practitioners identify
the best route to resolution and health. Note here, that we
are not talking
symptomatic relief, but actually getting rid of the problem
once and for all (unless you continue to put yourself under the same
case, you can expect the problems to return in a hurry!).
Once you have identified your stressors you can take appropriate
action to resolve the issue. Your practitioner will advise
you accordingly, likely along the lines of The Principles
This article is Copyright 2005 Natural Health Information Centre, but may be
freely distributed in its entirety when properly attributed to the source
article: Five steps to Stress
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