Stress is your normal response to a threat. On a short-term basis your stress response is a protective mechanism. It is designed for survival against short term threats. Prolonged or chronic stress, however, can lead to acute illness and chronic disease.
How Stress Works
When you are faced with a situation that feels out of control, your body prepares to meet the challenge. On a primitive level we call this response “fight”, “flight” or “freeze”. Your body is preparing to fight the challenge, run from it, or freeze in place. Breathing speeds up and becomes shallower, blood pressure rises along with adrenaline and cortisol, your heart beats faster and other changes occur that put the body on "red alert".
In this alert state oxygen and nutrients are used up fast and your immune system shuts down to free up those resources. Once you are through the crisis, there is a recovery period, when all systems come back to normal.
Your body is not designed to be on "red alert" continuously. The stress response is designed for short term bursts to prepare to face and survive a physical threat.
Unfortunately, our modern lifestyle presents us with psychological and emotional threats from which it is hard to physically fight or run. And, we often face those threats on a daily basis without a break. Job stress, relationship stress, or just listening to the news can elicit the stress response.
For example, research shows that heart attacks occur most often on Monday morning.
When you perceive that life presents continuous threats, your body stays on "red alert" for long periods without relief.
Blood pressure and heart rate can remain high too long. Your immune system becomes depleted and normal body systems are out of balance. This includes imbalances in insulin, triglycerides, cholesterol and other essential hormones.
When chronic imbalances continue unchecked chronic illness is the result.
Research has linked chronic stress to a wide variety of conditions including halitosis, heart disease, high blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, and a variety of autoimmune conditions, including cancer, fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue.
It makes sense that when your essential resources are depleted or out of balance for long periods illness results.
How to Break the Cycle
Here are a few simple steps that you can take to reclaim control over chronic stress.
1. Observe what triggers your stress response. Notice your shallow breathing, heart
racing, changes in temperature – feeling hotter or colder, difficulty sleeping, over eating or not eating enough, changes in thinking – lack of concentration, clarity, or memory issues.
2. Acknowledge that you are feeling out of control in the situation. How are you feeling powerless or stuck? Take a deep breath and let it out. Feel your shoulders drop. Feel your feet on the ground. Acknowledge that while you are not in control of the events or people outside of you, you are in full control of your own breathing and your own choices.
3. Take a simple action to replenish your body. Get some fresh air, drink a glass of water, eat a fresh salad or something light and nutritious, and take a walk and stretch. This step accomplishes two things. It's a way for you to take control of what you can do and it gives your body the time and resources it needs to rest and rebalance.
Chronic stress is a chronic habit that over time leads to chronic disease. You can improve your health and strengthen your immune system by being more aware of your stress and by taking simple actions to stop the chronic stress cycle.
Aila Accad, RN, MSN is an award-winning international speaker, bestselling author and certified coach and EFT advanced practitioner & trainer, specializing in quick ways to release stress and empower your life. A member of the National Speakers Association, she is a popular keynote speaker and radio and television guest. Her bestselling book "34 Instant Stress-Busters, Quick tips to de-stress fast with no extra time or money" is available at www.stressbustersbook.com Sign up for De-Stress Tips & News at www.ailaspeaks.com and receive a gift, "Ten Instant Stress Busters" e-book.