Stress is neither good nor bad, it just is. The stress we put on our bones allows them to remain strong. Emotional stress allows us to learn adaptive strategies. Often it is our attitudes and ability to “let go” that mitigate any resulting harmful effects.
When we are stressed it causes our cortisol or adrenaline to rise. This in turns causes vasoconstriction of the peripheral blood system so that all the blood on the “outside” of our bodies goes to the deep places such as the survival part of the brain, the heart and lungs, and the quads and gluts so we can run from danger. In turn the reduced blood flow to the periphery causes a myriad of symptoms including short term memory loss, alopecia or loss of hair, headaches, blurred vision, temperature regulation problems, and digestive problems; just to name a few.
Stress also causes insomnia as we are not supposed to sleep through danger. Eventually we wear out and end up with depression, hypoglycemia, and lack of motivation. So, how to minimize the effects of stress? Here are some “simple” things you can do:
Physically you must keep your sugar levels stable. This means eat protein every 3-4 hours and have plenty of vegetables. Stay hydrated so your blood vessels are relaxed.
Walk it off whenever you start to feel overwhelmed; step away from the stress and go outside. There are therapists that have couples wear pulse meters and when their heart rate gets over 100 beats per minute (bpm) in some upsetting situation they terminate the session and have people “walk it off.” The reason for this is that when your heart rate is over 100 bpm, then your cerebral cortex, where we process logically, is NOT functioning and you are in your limbic system, which is all emotional survival. Not a good place to think critically. So it is important to “walk it off” and leave the stressful situation until you have calmed yourself.
Aerobic exercise with concurrent sweating also helps metabolize stress hormones. If you exercise regularly you have prepared your blood vessels to handle emotional stressors. An exercise routine is a good investment in managing stress in addition to all the other health benefits found in exercise.
Sleep helps with stress, but 65% of all Americans lose sleep over stress. It is a viscous cycle because a lack of sleep raises stress hormones, which in turn raise blood pressure and blood sugar. Some simple things to try are having a bedtime routine (good sleep hygiene), no TV or computer screens but instead dim lighting, soft music, reading. The bedroom should be cool, dark, quiet and comfortable. If you have trouble sleeping for more than 3 nights in a row it is time to consult your Emerald City Clinic physician.
Do not add fuel to the stressful fire. Unhealthy habits such as alcohol, sugar, caffeine, cigarettes and overeating add to the overall stress to the body.
Spend time with happy people as it really fills us with oxytocin, a hormone that relaxes us. Laughter and hugs relax us and relax our blood vessels lowering blood pressure and stress hormones.
Make choices that do not feel like obligations and “should” but spend time with people that improve your feeling of self worth.
Recently I spent time with my daughter, Brittany who is in her PhD program for Counseling, Psychology. She and I were discussing that she prefers the wellness model for mental health; much like a Naturopathic perspective of focusing on optimal health. With that in mind she had me take a test that focuses on your emotional strengths. I would like to share that website. It is www.viacharacter.org and you can register for free, after you fill it in you can watch the YouTube piece on “strength of character” that explains your outcome. I think during this holiday season we should focus on what we do well and share it.
Wishing you all a peaceful, love-filled holiday season.
Dr. Molly Niedermeyer, ND