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By Tawnya Creager, Community Outreach Director
Easter Seals Adult Day Services
April is National Stress Awareness Month so what better time to discuss the dangers, types and ways to help you de-stress your life? Stress can be defined as any type of change that causes physical, emotional or psychological strain. However, not all stress is the same.
* Eustress: A type of stress that is fun & exciting, it keeps us on our toes (e.g. skiing down a slope or racing to meet a deadline).
* Acute Stress: Very short-term stresses that can either be positive or not; this is the type of stress we most often encounter in day-to-day live.
* Episodic Acute Stress: This type seems to run rampant & be a way of life of relative chaos (e.g. the type of stress the coined the terms "drama queen" and "absent-minded professor").
* Chronic Stress: The type of stress that seems never-ending and inescapable, like the stress of a bad marriage or an extremely taxing job.
Stress can be the body's response to a perceived threat or danger; this is called the Fight or Flight response. During this reaction, certain hormones like adrenalin & cortisol are released, speeding the heart rate, slowing digestions, shutting off blood flow to muscle groups and changing various other nervous functions, to give the body a burst of energy and strength. Originally named for its ability to enable us to physically fight or run away when faced with danger, it's now activated in situations where neither response is appropriate, like in traffic or during a stressful day at work.
When the perceived threat is gone, systems are designed to return to normal functioning via the relaxation response. Yet, in times of chronic stress, this isn't happening causing damage to the body. When faced with stress people begin to see physical symptoms.
These can include, but aren't limited to:
* Heart Disease
* Anxiety or Obsessive-compulsive disorders
* Sexual dysfunction
People who live in a stressed-out condition are more likely to take up unhealthy habits such as, overeating or smoking and are less likely to exercise. It is also a known fact that the surge of adrenaline caused by severe emotional stress causes the blood to clot more readily, increasing a person's risk of heart attacks. British investigators have shown that constant work stress can produce chronic increases in adrenaline levels and have related those changes to an increased risk of heart disease.
A Study at Duke University showed that the stress of performing difficult arithmetic problems can constrict the coronary arteries in such a way that blood flow to the heart muscle is reduced. Thus, science is beginning to support the theory that chronic emotional stress can promote coronary artery disease. Now emotional stress isn't all bad. Quite a bit of evidence suggests that it may be the individual and not the stress itself that is the problem. People with Type A personalities (time-sensitive, impatient, chronic sense of urgency, tendency towards hostility, & competitiveness) are at a higher risk for coronary artery disease than people with Type B personalities (patient, low key, & non-competitive).
Too Much Stress? How do you know when you're dealing with too much? The answer can be tricky...here's why.
* Stress affects the body in different ways. Some are more obvious while others aren't as noticeable until it becomes more severe.
* Different people are affected more or less intensely and in different ways.
* People who thrive on stress make it more difficult to discern stress symptoms until after much of their stress is alleviated.
* Under high levels of stress, people often find it difficult to stop and notice their body's natural responses.
It's true that everyone reacts differently to stress; however, there are some common factors.
* Headaches: Certain types of headaches can be stress related.
* Frequent colds or flu: There is an inverse relationship between stress and immunity, so if you're under too much stress, you may be getting sick more often.
* Sleep problems: Too much stress can rob you of sleep and make the sleep you get less restorative.
* General anxiety: A certain amount of anxiety in life is normal but if you are feeling anxious more than usual it could be due to too many stressors in your life. It could also indicate a medical condition, called generalized anxiety disorder you need to see your doctor if you suspect this is the culprit.
* "Fuzzy thinking": Your body's stress response pumps your body with hormones that make it possible for you to fight or flee quickly. This stress response can actually cause you to think less quickly.
* Feeling of frustration: When you're faced with many demands at once, the natural result for many people is increased frustration and irritability. The trick is to find ways to prevent frustration and to keep you calm!
Now that we've talked about how stress affects us and our bodies, how can we relieve stress to feel better and life longer?
1. Breathing Exercises
Deep breathing is an easy stress reliever that has numerous benefits for the body. This exercise is especially helpful because you can do it anywhere and it works quickly so you can de-stress in a flash.
Meditation builds on deep breathing and takes it a step further. When you meditate, your brain enters an area of functioning that's similar to sleep, but carries some added benefits you can't achieve as well in any other state. Also, the mental focus on nothingness keeps your mind from working overtime and increasing your stress level.
Many people exercise to control weight and get into better physical condition to become more healthy or attractive but exercise and stress management are closely linked. Exercise provides a distraction from stressful situations, as well as an outlet for frustrations, and gives you a lift via endorphins as well.
Music therapy has shown numerous health benefits for people with conditions ranging from mild (like stress) to severe (like cancer). When dealing with stress, the right music can actually lower your blood pressure, relax your body and calm your mind.
Yoga is one of the oldest self-improvement practices, dating back 5 thousand years! It combines the practice of several other stress management techniques such as breathing, meditation and exercise giving you a lot of benefit for the amount of time and energy required.
Stress is something that we live with on a daily basis that can be healthy and help to make us successful yet it can also be dangerous. If you suspect that your stress levels are high and may be endangering yourself, schedule an appointment with your doctor to talk about how you can reduce your stress levels. Would you like to find out more about stress and stress management? Information from www.about.com was used in this article.
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