What is stress? How does it impact on our health?
It can be difficult to define stress as many different definitions exist.
According to the American Psychological Association Stress can be a reaction to a short-lived situation, such as being stuck in traffic. Or it can last a long time if you're dealing with relationship problems, a spouse's death or other serious situations. Stress becomes dangerous when it interferes with your ability to live a normal life over an extended period. You may feel tired, unable to concentrate or irritable. Stress can also damage your physical health.
The Wikipedia definition of stress is a feeling of strain and pressure. Small amounts of stress may be desired, beneficial, and even healthy. Positive stress helps improve athletic performance. It also plays a factor in motivation, adaptation, and reaction to the environment. Excessive amounts of stress however, may lead to many problems in the body that could be harmful.
Stress can be external and related to the environment but may also be created by internal perceptions that cause an individual to have anxiety or other negative emotions surrounding a situation, such as pressure, discomfort, etc., which they then deem stressful.
Humans experience stress, or perceive things as threatening, when they do not believe that their resources for coping with obstacles (stimuli, people, situations, etc.) are enough for what the circumstances demand. When we think the demands being placed on us exceed our ability to cope, we then perceive stress.
When we perceive stress, our bodies have a physiological or biological response. You may know it as the “Fight or Flight” response. This response is controlled by our Sympathetic Nervous System and results in the release of biochemicals that cause changes in the balance in our bodies. These changes include a fast heartbeat, increased respiratory rate, dilated pupils (tunnel vision), decreased hearing, bladder relaxation, flushed face, dry mouth, slowed digestion and shaking. This type of biologic response is helpful in acute situations when our life is in jeopardy. Think caveman running from the lion. In modern times this type of prolonged physiological response on our bodies can be harmful to our health.
This is why managing our stress can provide great benefits to our overall health. Decreasing stress prior to surgery can improve our surgical recovery.
Effects of stress on surgery:
- Delayed wound healing
- Elevated blood sugars in diabetics which can result in diabetic complications
- Difficulty managing post-operative pain
- Attitude: A person's attitude can influence whether or not a situation or emotion is stressful. A person with a negative attitude will often report more stress than would someone with a positive attitude.
- Diet: A poor diet puts the body in a state of physical stress and weakens the immune system. As a result, a person can be more likely to get infections. A poor diet can mean making unhealthy food choices, not eating enough, or not eating on a normal schedule. This form of physical stress also decreases the ability to deal with emotional stress because not getting the right nutrition may affect the way the brain processes information.
- Physical activity: Not getting enough physical activity can put the body in a stressed state. Physical activity has many benefits, including promoting a feeling of well-being.
- Support systems: Almost everyone needs someone in their life they can rely on when they are having a hard time. Having little or no support makes stressful situations even more difficult to deal with.
- Relaxation: A person with no outside interests, hobbies, or other ways to relax may be less able to handle stressful situations. Getting 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night also helps a person cope with stress.
Recognize the Signs of Stress:
Headaches Upset Stomach Feeling of being “uptight”
Anxiety Irritability Diarrhea
Lack of Energy Loss of Hope Poor Concentration
Frequent Colds Clumsiness Anger
Forgetfulness Indigestion Knotted Stomach
Constant Errors of Judgment Inability to Make Decisions
Sadness or Lack of Interest Inability to sleep, sleepiness or oversleeping
Overacting or Skipping Meals Feeling of Powerlessness
New or increased use of Tobacco products, alcohol or other drugs.
Some things you can do reduce your stress:
- Find the positive in situations, and do not dwell on the negative. Surround yourself with positive people.
- Plan fun activities.
- Take regular breaks.
- Accept that you can’t control every situation and learn to be flexible.
- At the start of each day, write down your list of things to do, then set reasonable priorities.
- Avoid the trap of demanding too much of yourself. Get help if tasks are too big for you.
- Divide big tasks into smaller, more manageable ones.
- If possible, say “NO” to tasks that you know will be stressful for you.
- Use mistakes and setbacks as opportunities to learn.
- Be ready to admit when you are wrong.
- Start a physical activity program. Experts recommend 150 minutes of aerobic activity per week.
- Decide on a specific type, amount, and level of physical activity. Fit this into your schedule so it can be part of your routine.
- Find a buddy to exercise with. It is more fun and helps you to stick with your routine.
- You do not have to join a gym, 20 minutes of brisk walking outdoors is enough.
- Moderate exercise each day will increase your energy level and improve your mood.
- Eat foods that improve your health and well-being. For example, eat more fruits and vegetables. Avoid Sugar. Avoid/limit Caffeine.
- Eat normal-size portions on a regular schedule.
- Avoid tobacco, alcohol and drugs. They only make matters worse.
- Try to socialize. Even though you may feel like avoiding people when you are stressed, meeting friends often helps you feel less stressed.
- Be good to yourself and others.
- Confide in at least one friend and share your disappointments, as well as achievements with him or her. Talk things out so that minor frustrations don’t build up.
- Laugh!! Look for the humor in life and take time to have fun.
- Remember, it is okay to cry.
- Eliminate everyday sources of stress such as loud music playing or clutter in your surroundings.
- Try relaxation techniques, such as guided imagery, listening to music, or practicing yoga or meditation. (There are many apps you can download to assist you with meditation, we recommend the Meditation Oasis App).
- Try relaxing activities such as gardening, playing with a pet, reading a good book, or whatever helps you relax.
- Practice deep breathing. Get in a comfortable position. Take in a slow deep breath through your nose to the count of 5. Hold your breath for another count of 5. Then exhale through your mouth to the count of 5.
- Listen to your body when it tells you to slow down or take a break.
- Get enough sleep. Good sleep habits are one of the best ways to manage stress.
- Do something that interests you. Take up a hobby.
- Prolonged sitting contributes to stress, so add activity to your everyday life by doing such simple things as taking the stairs instead of the elevator, standing or walking while on the telephone, etc.
- Make anti-stress stretches a part of your day.
Six Anti-Stress Stretches
Meditation Oasis App