What does it mean to be healthy? What does a healthy person do? Often the first things that come to mind are doing things like eating a nutritious diet, exercising, and avoiding tobacco.
It is well known that a poor diet, sedentary lifestyle, and smoking or using other unhealthy substances can increase your risk of chronic disease, zap your energy, and make you feel less than great on a daily basis. However, there is one additional area of health that is crucial to a healthy lifestyle that most people hear about regularly but really have little understanding of: stress management. Poor stress management is as much a risk factor for chronic disease and poor quality of life as a bad diet, being sedentary, and smoking are.
First, let’s talk a little bit about what stress actually is. Our bodies have a stress response when we feel worried or unsafe. Stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline are released into the bloodstream, and a cascade of physical and mental changes take place including an increased heart rate, raised blood sugar, quickened thoughts, and tense muscles that are ready to fight, freeze or run. After the threat is passed, our bodies are designed to return to a state of homeostasis, and focus on repairing, digesting, and resting.
Stress worked great for our ancestors; it kicked in just when they needed to run or fight off a predator, or do some other physically hard thing to increase their chances of survival, such as bringing the harvest in before a storm. However, this ancient feature of the human body is not as well matched for our modern day life of sitting in front of computer screens, having our food delivered to our front door on demand, and deadlines and busy schedules. Because of our lifestyles and cultural norms, most people are experiencing high amounts of stress on a daily basis. Our bodies were never designed to have a stress response so frequently or be in a state of chronic stress. Stress affects us psychologically and physically in many, many ways. It is a leading cause of many things, including the following:
What’s amazing is that when you target this ONE thing, your personal stress management, you can see improvements in MANY areas of your health and your life!
So how can you effectively manage stress?
First it’s important to understand that a stress response only happens when you think a stressful thought. Which is great news, because that means we have a great deal of control over it! For our ancestors it might have been thoughts about legitimate dangers, such as an approaching predator. In our modern day life it is pretty rare that we are actually in danger. But, we have been culturally conditioned to think like we are. We worry, we imagine things going wrong, we dwell on the past with regret or embarrassment, or we resist reality and wish things were different. Any thoughts we are having that are sending the message to our brain and our body that things should not be this way can induce a stress response.
Because stress always begins with a thought, choosing more positive thoughts and reducing those that may cause stress is the best way to prevent stress from ever happening. We can also adjust the things in our life that tend to trigger these thoughts, such as a overloaded schedule. Even with practice, none of us will be perfect at preventing stress, so doing something with the buildup of stress in our bodies or to alleviate stress side effects are other important parts of comprehensive stress management.
Here are 6 suggestions of effective ways to prevent and manage the stress in your life:
If you are wanting a healthier body and mind in the present and future, a focus on stress management is one of the most effective ways to get it. Choose one thing that resonates with you and go for it!
Author: Hannah Clements