Stress is simply a fact of nature. Stress is forces from the inside or outside world affecting an individual. In today’s fast-paced, deadline driven and constantly connected world, for many people stress has become a way of life. Stress isn’t always bad. It can help you perform under pressure to trigger your body’s response to perceived danger (i.e. “fight-or-flight” response.) But when you’re constantly running in emergency mode, your mind and body pay the price. Chronic stress prevents your body from experiencing the normal relaxation levels that return after facing a temporary stressful situation.
You can protect yourself by recognizing the signs and symptoms of stress and taking steps to reduce its harmful effects. Even thinking about learning new ways to deal with stress can cause stress. Still, ignoring it won’t make it go away. Stress can cause health problems or make health problems worse, so it’s important to find out the cause of physical symptoms.
What are the possible signs of stress? The American Academy of Family Physicians says early signs can include tension in your shoulders and neck, or clenching your hands into fists. Additional signs can range from anxiety to fatigue to weight gain or loss:
Possible signs of stress
• Back pain
• Constipation or diarrhea
• High blood pressure
• Trouble sleeping or insomnia
• Problems with relationships
• Shortness of breath
• Stiff neck or jaw
• Upset stomach
• Weight gain or loss
Because stress differs for each person, there is no cure-all, but there are common sense approaches to managing stress. For example, avoiding the source of stress – the event, activity, person or situation, and reducing the impact of stress by changing the response to the stress-causing problem. These approaches often require changing habits that are second nature, but harmful to one’s overall well being. The bottom line is that sometimes, as hard as it might be to admit, we cause our own stress. Further, short-term relief like smoking, alcohol or drugs may seem like a way to “take it down a notch,” but eventually can make matters worse.
Tips for dealing with stress
Source: American Academy of Family Physicians
• Don’t worry about things you can’t control, such as the weather.
• Solve the little problems. This can help you gain a feeling of control.
• Prepare to the best of your ability for events you know may be stressful, such as a job interview.
• Try to look at change as a positive challenge, not as a threat.
• Work to resolve conflicts with other people.
• Talk with a trusted friend, family member or counselor.
• Set realistic goals at home and at work. Avoid over scheduling.
• Exercise on a regular basis.
• Eat regular, well-balanced meals and get enough sleep.
• Participate in something you don’t find stressful, such as sports, social events or hobbies.
Laughter: the best medicine?
A good sense of humor may not solve all your problems, but research shows that laughter has many benefits. There’s evidence that it can relieve stress, decrease pain, bring greater happiness, and even increase immunity.
According to Mayo Clinic experts, laughter has both short and long-term benefits. It actually triggers physical changes and can:
• Stimulate many organs. Laughter enhances your intake of oxygen-rich air, stimulates your heart, lungs and muscles, and increases the endorphins that are released by your brain.
• Activate and relieve your stress response. A rollicking laugh fires up and then cools down your stress response and increases your heart rate and blood pressure. The result? A good, relaxed feeling.
• Soothe tension. Laughter can also stimulate circulation and aid muscle relaxation, both of which help reduce some of the physical symptoms of stress.
Laughter isn’t just a quick pick-me-up, though. It’s also good for you over the long haul.
• Improve your immune system. Negative thoughts manifest into chemical reactions that can impact your body by bringing more stress into your system and decreasing your immunity. In contrast, positive thoughts actually release neuropeptides that help fight stress and potentially more serious illnesses.
• Relieve pain. Laughter may ease pain by causing the body to produce its own natural painkillers. Laughter may also break the pain-spasm cycle common to some muscle disorders.
• Increase personal satisfaction. Laughter can also make it easier to cope with difficult situations. It also helps you connect with other people.
Above all, remember that the effects of chronic stress are no joke. If you are feeling excessive levels of stress or anxiety, or engaging in unhealthy or compulsive behaviors, please talk to your doctor or health care professional. For more information, call North Hawaii Community Hospital at 885-4444, or visit www.nhch.com.