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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Improve Your Health by Managing Your Stress

 by selnov09


We all know that stress is unavoidable. However, Americans are often saddled with more stress than they can handle. If left unchecked, a high level of stress can cause both emotional and physical problems. So it's important for people to manage the amount of stress in their lives. But here's something people may not know: there is a correlation between reduced stress and improved health.

Stress and Physical Health

To see the negative effects of unmanaged stress, we must first examine the physical effect of stress on the body. When stress is encountered, the small region of the brain called the hypothalamus is stimulated. The hypothalamus sends out certain chemicals and hormones that prepare the body for combat or escape. Adrenaline is released to elevate heart rate, raise blood pressure, and increase energy supplies. Cortisol affects the body by improving the processing of sugars in the brain and bloodstream and facilitating other substances which repair tissues. In addition, cortisol also maximizes the body's "fight-or-flight" reaction by shutting down the internal processes that hinder this response, such as the immune, digestive, reproductive, and growth systems.

The body's reactions to stress were apparent even in the first human beings, who when confronted by a larger animal had to quickly determine whether to attack or flee. And these stress responders have been honed over thousands of years to help ensure the survival of the species. Unfortunately, the body generally cannot distinguish between a life-or-death threat and common heavy stressors like traffic jams, overbearing bosses with unrealistic expectations, or the incessant cries of an unhappy infant.

So it's easy to see how a prolonged reaction to stress might have a detrimental effect on the body. If hormone levels remain high due to excessive stress and are not allowed to drop back to baseline levels, damage to the body can begin to occur. Blood pressure can stay elevated, the immune system can continue to be suppressed, and even the digestive tract and reproductive systems can be adversely affected. This in turn can increase the risks of a myriad of ailments, including heart disease, insomnia, obesity, autoimmune diseases, and even skin conditions like eczema. The body's emotional makeup is also subjected to potentially harmful consequences, which can include irritability, moodiness, agitation, feelings of loneliness, and even depression.

The Health Benefits of Managing Stress

On the other hand, if a person is able to control his or her stress levels, he or she can reduce the risk of suffering from various types of maladies. If blood pressure remains within normal ranges, the chances of heart attack, stroke, and related diseases are decreased. If the body's immune system remains strong, the individual is less likely to catch colds, succumb to infection, or be stricken by an autoimmune disease. Also, the body will be able to absorb and distribute nutrients more efficiently, the digestive tract will remain unobstructed, and fertility may even increase. In addition, an individual's emotional state will be more balanced and less prone to mood swings, anxiety, temper tantrums, and feelings of hopelessness.

Consequently, effective stress management can help improve a person's interpersonal relationships. Communication with family members can be open and pleasant instead of being eroded by irritability and moodiness, which can lead to conflict. Interaction with friends and co-workers will not be jeopardized by anger or erratic behavior, which can result in alienation and even more feelings of loneliness. And a more stable emotional condition can help a person feel more connected to society as a whole instead of feeling isolated from everyone else.

Stress Management Techniques

There are some steps people can take to diminish their stress levels that can have a direct effect on their health. One of the most basic ways is to combat the physical response to stress by taking appropriate countermeasures. For instance, engaging in breathing exercises helps the body pull back from its preprogrammed "fight-or-flight" response. Slow and steady breathing lowers blood pressure and relaxes the parts of the body that are being stimulated as part of a normal reaction to stress.

Another technique is to list all of the stressors in one's life and then address the most serious ones immediately. This may mean confronting a disruptive coworker, leaving for work earlier to keep from frantically rushing around in the morning, or eliminating some social events in a busy week so as not to feel overwhelmed. Even if the stressor cannot be eliminated, a person's stress level will often shrink simply by addressing a problem that has been lingering for a long period of time. And of course, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, including exercising, eating right, and getting enough sleep, will keep the body strong and sound so that it can be better prepared when stress does occur.

Ignoring abnormal stress levels can lead to disastrous results in the future. Conversely, proper stress management is an integral part of preserving optimal health in body, mind, and spirit.

Chris Martin is a freelance writer who writes about self improvement and stress management.


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