Stress and Your Health

March 7, 2012 at 3:29 pm

Are you familiar with a little thing we call “stress”?

Chances are, you are well acquainted with this phenomenon.  But what is it exactly?  There is actually “good stress”; however when it comes to health, this is not the concern.  It’s “bad stress” — and our response to it — which can lead to problems.

Got Stress?

In fact, “bad stress” can kill.  A recent study published in the European Heart Journal, found that workers who reported high levels of stress had a 68% greater risk of developing fatal heart conditions, than those who were not as stressed.  Other impacts of stress include illness (medical experts concur that up to 90% of all doctor visits involve stress related complaints); burn out, increased negative emotions (and conflict), difficulty sleeping, weight gain. . .well, you get the unpleasant picture.

Dr. Michael McVay defines “bad stress” as:  “The perception of a threat to my psychological or physical well-being; and I am unable to cope with that threat.”  This definition gives us some insight into what we can do. The key here is to increase our ability to cope; to take control where we can and be more at choice about how we respond to stress.  So here’s the not so good news about stress responses:  30-40% of it is genetically determined and there isn’t much we can do about it.

The GOOD news is that 60-70% is a LEARNED response (or habit).  This is where we have control; where each of us can take charge and make a new choice to reduce stress and increase our health.  With that in mind, here are a few suggestions:

1)  Breathe

Ever notice how you hold your breath when you feel stressed?  This leads to a “snowball stress effect”, in the form of headaches, muscle tension, short tempers, etc.  So the most simple, portable, practical stress management tool I know is to take a very deep breath and exhale fully.  This allows you to break the stress snowball and focus your attention on something else, such as. . .

2)  Find something to laugh about every day

Research indicates that laughter not only helps us to feel better psychologically; it has physiological benefits as well – such as lowering blood pressure and muscle relaxation.  Tip:  post a cartoon that makes you giggle at your workstation or on the fridge – somewhere you will see it regularly.  Then laugh!

3)  Take a break

If you find yourself in a stressful situation, look for a way to take a break.  Go for a walk; or even a quick trip to the restroom!  Changing your environment can help shift your focus so you can breathe, relax a bit and think through alternatives to the “stress snowball”.

Practice these simple stress solutions to see what new habits can work for you; and make this your most stress free year ever!


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