In these uncertain times with COVID-19 on everyone’s mind, it’s obvious each one of you has your own definition of how stress has impacted your life, or how it makes you feel.
Nobody is immune, even during so-called “normal times.” If we define stress as anything that alters our homeostasis ( internal balance), then good stress, in its many forms, is vital for a healthy life. Bad stress can sometimes eventually turn into good and vice versa. Good stress, which psychologists call “ eustress,” is the type we feel when we experience the emotion of excitement or receive good news, for example.
GOOD STRESS (EUSTRESS) VERSUS BAD (DISTRESS)
Good stress, then, is the type that triggers our pulse to quicken and your hormones to surge, but there is no threat or sense of fear. This type can be appreciated if you reflect, for example, on your very first date in high school. The excitement you felt about the date or the person produced this healthy form.
Another type is acute stress. It comes from quick surprises that need a response rapidly. Acute stress triggers the body’s response as well, but the triggers are not always happy or exciting. It can be good or bad stress, depending on the specific incident. Acute stress by itself does not take a heavy toll on you either mentally or physically, if, you find ways to relax or calm yourself down in a reasonable amount of time. To remain happy and healthy, we need to return the body back to its pre-stress state or back to internal balance. Chronic stress is another form of bad stress. This is generally considered a more severe form. Because our bodies are meant to be in a steady state of balance physically, mentally, and emotionally, you can face adverse health effects, if chronic stress persists unchecked for months without end.
Interestingly enough, everyone’s perception of stress and their ability to cope with various stressors throughout life is uniquely different from one person to the next. This is similar to what we see with people’s perception of pain, for example. Each individual’s pain threshold is different. Studies even suggest that different ethnic groups and cultures experience stress and pain levels at different rates, frequencies, and limits. The body’s response reacts strongly to “perceived threats. “ If you don’t perceive or interpret something as a threat, there is generally no sympathetic nervous system response in terms of a “fight or flight” response.
There are some tools or resources you may consider to help you make the paradigm shift mentally in your mind regarding perceptions or perceived stress which include such things as:
- focus on the resources you do possess
- see the potential upside or what is to be learned from the experience
- remind yourself of all your strengths
- maintain a mindset of mental toughness
- keep a positive mental attitude (feed the brain good thoughts)
THE CORONAVIRUS HAS CREATED AN UNCOMMON LEVEL OF STRESS
In addition to the current stress levels being generated or created from the coronavirus, other factors play heavily into triggering the stress response in millions of Americans. The key elements and top causes of stress include job pressures, money, health, health insurance, relationships, both personal and professional, poor nutrition, media overload, and sleep deprivation. Typically, the most common physical symptoms associated with persistent stress include fatigue, headaches, upset stomach, IBS, muscle tension, changes in appetite, teeth grinding, changes in sex drive or libido, and occasionally feeling dizzy or light-headed. Furthermore, people report the following psychological symptoms as well, which include irritability or anger, feeling more nervous or anxious, fatigue or lack of energy, and feeling sad, mildly depressed, or being tearful more frequently.
IMPACT OF CHRONIC STRESS
We all know that exercise, healthy eating, and proper nutritional supplementation can have a profound effect on our overall general health. However, chronic high-level stress will, over time, overload the adrenal gland stress hormone response of cortisol and epinephrine. These physiological or functional “ fight or flight “ responses will then create a cascade of emotional and physical toxicities within the body that must be dealt with. Also, chronic stress increases both the risk and duration of all viruses, viral syndromes, and bacterial infections, for example. When we are poised to adapt to these responses, the natural self-repair mechanism of the body can go about the business of doing what it does best- which is to heal the body. After all, balance is the crucial element when we are dealing with the nervous system.
MIND BODY CONNECTION
Gone are the days where we don’t look at the mind-body connection. Functional medicine doctors and holistic practitioners are aligned with this concept, and put great faith in this connection for healing and putting the body back into homeostasis. The more research that rolls out, the more we see it as the absolute connection needed to bridge the gap not only for the treatment of but also in the prevention of the many diseases, including chronic stress. Having the knowledge and the emotional and physical tools to manage stress effectively takes some time and effort, but the payoff in optimizing your health is enormous.
TOP 5 STRESS ALLEVIATING TECHNIQUES AND TIPS
Here are my favorite health tips to help you, your family, and friends navigate through the maze of eustress and distress in your daily lives to keep you happy and healthy.
- MINDFULNESS – meditation reduces anxiety and lowers the stress hormone cortisol. Merely taking a few deep abdominal breaths activates the vagus nerve, which triggers a signal within your nervous system to slow your heart rate, decrease blood pressure, and lower cortisol. The next time you feel yourself in a stressful situation, take a few deep breaths and feel your entire body relax and decompress. Simple, and it works!
- FOOD IS YOUR FRIEND – Let food be your medicine. Nearly 40 percent of Americans report overeating or eating unhealthy processed foods as a result of stress. Eat the colors of the rainbow. This simply means more fruits and vegetables. The Mediterranean diet is still considered to be the healthiest of all diets.
- LAUGH MORE – Harvard Medical Center clearly feels laughter and humor to be one of the best forms of good medicine. Laughter triggers chemical responses in the brain that lead to feelings of pleasure and a sense of well- being.
- CORRECT NUTRIENT IMBALANCES – Optimal nutrition is the cornerstone of optimal health. Checking for nutrient deficiencies is one of the most important ways to help someone enter into a healing environment. Chronic stress, some medications, poor diet, and digestive issues all contribute to a lack of crucial vitamins and minerals in the body, which can lead to chronic health conditions like arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer, for example.
- POSITIVE RELATIONSHIPS – Having close social networks with family, friends, significant others, and co-workers, can support the body is dealing with stress. The emotional aspect increases healthy molecules like serotonin ( the feel-good hormone ), for example.
Stress, whether good or bad, is obviously a part of life for all of us. And while you can’t always control your circumstances, you can control how you respond to them. When it becomes overwhelming, or it is chronic in nature, it can take a toll on your well – being. That’s why it is essential to have effective stress reduction strategies that can calm your mind and body reasonably quickly. What works for one person might not work for another. There isn’t a perfect recipe or magic bullet as a one-size-fits-all option.