In case you haven’t noticed we live in a very stressful society and world. Our jobs are demanding, our finances are challenged, our freeways are out right dangerous, world affairs seem to be out of control, not to mention that we are bombarded with constant commercial images of how we don’t measure up.

The way we respond to the pressures of life has a direct influence on our health. In fact, this unmanaged pressure is related to every killer disease in our country; that includes cardiovascular problems, immune deficiency diseases, cancers, as well as accidents and injuries. Lack of sleep has now been proven to be as dangerous and deadly when driving as being intoxicated. For two simple steps on how to manage this read the insightful article by Faith Haulter.

Of course not all stress is necessarily bad. Exercise, for example, stresses on our muscles, bones and heart, but in doing so it strengthens them. However, deadlines, lack of sleep, poor nutrition, anxiety and bad habits take its toll. And the worst part of it is we adapt to the changes in our bodies as though they are normal. Hans Selye called this the General Adaptation Syndrome. What he found is if your hormone levels (such as adrenalin and cortisol) are elevated for any prolonged length of time, then your system adjusts to a higher elevation as normal. The problem with this is these elevated levels can be very toxic over a prolonged period of time.

Most pressures of life affects us by initiating the fight or flight response. This is a mechanism in the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) that regulates how we respond to intense or threatening situations. When trigged this fight or flight response causes our breathing to become shallow and rapid, our muscles tense up, our heart rate goes up and our abdomen and organs contract pushing the blood to the extremities. All of this is perfect in an emergency. However, it is toxic if held as a chronic posturing.

Another aspect of the fight or flight phenomena is to freeze as described by Peter Levine in his book "Waking the Tiger." In cases such as this the response to an event can be locked into the body causing long term guarding of the muscles, organs, holding of the breath and an anxiety that the event may reoccur. This is more classically known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). PTSD can be quite debilitating but does respond well to certain types of psychotherapy. One form of therapy that is especially helpful is a type of body-centered psychotherapy known as EMDR or Eye Movement Desensitization Reprogramming. Ask when seeking a therapist for posttraumatic shock if they are trained in this modality.

Managing Stress

When considering ways to combat and manage the pressures of life it is helpful to look for ways to activate the Relaxation Response. This response is also a mechanism of the ANS that helps return the mind/body to a neutral state of rest and ease. Many things can activate the relaxation response such as close relationships, hobbies, music, massage and more. But to develop the skill of triggering the Relaxation Response at will takes practice.

One of the best methods that have been found for this is meditation. By simply being still and quiet for 15 minutes a day you can develop the skill needed to return your system to balance after a stressful encounter. Much research has been done on people who meditate and the health benefits are impressive. They tend to have lower blood pressure, fuller breathing (so more oxygen), their muscles are less tense, they have less anxiety and they tend to have improved time management skills. And for those in pain, meditation has been shown to help reduce their pain level through out the day. It’s no wonder that yoga and meditation classes have become so popular.

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