Stress is a fact of daily life, but for many of us in our global society, it is a chronic state. According to an executive in the automotive industry from Detroit, in order to remain competitive with other countries, we spend long hours working with very little downtime. Not only that, there are cultural clashes we stumble upon where worldviews collide on a number of subjects as well as differing opinions about how to accomplish our work. He stated that we also have to stay competitive as individuals to remain relevant in our jobs, which means being constantly connected by phone, text, email, and social media. Home life becomes stressful because we struggle to balance work, school, and family responsibilities. Our health pays a heavy price for this constant bombardment.
Most of the time, we are able to manage short-term stress when we get home. Peace sets in with our routine in the flow of a loving, accepting environment. The problem comes when we aren’t able to escape the stressors that come our way. Chronic stress– stress that continues for a long time with little respite– presents serious health concerns for us, especially with our hearts and brains. Surprisingly, it also affects the largest organ of our bodies and our skin. The key is to learn healthy coping strategies for effective stress management.
What Happens During Stress:
When we come home from a bad day at work in rush hour traffic, the stress hormones cortisol and epinephrine flood our systems to give us the ability to handle the challenges we face for the moment. Our heart rates elevate, we become more acutely tuned to the situation, and our respiration increases to help us either run or fight. When the stress disappears as we walk in the door at home, those hormones return to normal pre-stress levels.
Problems escalate for us when we are constantly under stress. If we are unable to escape the fast-paced demands at work when we come home, or conflict is waiting to pounce on us at the door of our homes, stress hormones stay elevated. It is when these hormones don’t return to normal that they cause a host of diseases and health conditions. We pay a heavy price for chronic stress.
How Physical Responses Negatively Affect Our Brains, Hearts, and Skin.
Our emotional responses to constant stress like anger, fear, and the need for safety can cause mental disorders because the brain changes how gray matter and white matter form, especially for children. Neuroreceptors can also be damaged. For example, people who grow up in domestic violence or come back from war are often diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, extreme anxiety, rage, and chronic irritability. A situation may be misinterpreted by the affected person causing them to respond inappropriately, such as assuming gunshots are fired when the door slams shut instead. It interferes with sleep and relationships, making conditions worse.
Chronic stress is accompanied by chronic inflammation throughout the body, weakening blood vessels. When blood pressure remains elevated, it increases the risk of stroke. Chronic inflammation is also associated with autoimmune conditions that affect the heart, brain, and skin. Inflammation of the heart combined with plaque build-up in the arteries, when a new stress is added to the chronic stress, sets the stage for a heart attack. A slow burn turns into a raging fire concerning our health.
Signs of early aging like hair loss, wrinkles, and memory loss begin to plague people who can’t escape stress. Acne, rosacea, psoriasis, and eczema worsen under stress. People often suffer arrhythmias due to constantly elevated heart rates. It is not unusual for someone under chronic stress to appear older than their actual age. Lost sleep due to worry and the damaging presence of stress hormones reduces cellular repair. As a result, the immune system takes a big hit making the person sick more often, and causing lost work time, which keeps the cycle of stress going. People suffer at younger and younger ages.
Stress-busting Tips for Healthy Living
There are a number of simple ways you can make stress manageable:
- Simplify your life by reducing your stuff. Clear out clutter for a more relaxing home and work environment.
- Cut down commitments on your calendar. Say no to requests that are not important to you, your family, or your work.
- Manage stress through your spiritual practices. Prayer and meditation have been shown to reduce stress levels. Reflect on passages from religious texts or inspirational quotes to keep perspective in stressful situations.
- Maintain healthy relationships with positive people. Minimized time with people who drain or stress you.
- Reflect on your stress through journaling. Pouring out problems through writing puts the problem in the “park” so you can deal with it at a more appropriate time and helps you sleep better.
- Keep a regular exercise schedule and eat healthy, less processed foods. Exercise increases endorphins, and feel-good hormones. Both will help protect your health.
- Schedule downtime for yourself by taking a walk, playing a game, or enjoying a hobby.
Practicing good stress management gives you better control of your health and your life. Your body will thank you for it!
Charlaine Martin is a freelance writer, blogger, and personal trainer with Totally Fit 4 Life Ministries www.totallyfit4life.net. She is married and lives with her husband in Michigan. She enjoys spending time with her family, flying with her husband, cycling, and gardening.